It’s bad enough that drones are being used around the planet to conduct aerial surveillance and bomb select countries from remote locations. Now some of their other intended uses are being revealed.
In 2012 a security researcher working with DARPA, Brendan O’Connor, made what seemed like a silly announcement at a hacker convention that he was developing an F-BOMB (Falling or Ballistically-launched Object that Makes Backdoors) to combat “Bad Men With Guns.” The proposal was for a $50 disposable spy computer that would measure 3.5 by 4 by 1 inch.
…O’Connor has designed the cheap gadgets to be dropped from a drone, plugged inconspicuously into a wall socket, thrown over a barrier, or otherwise put into irretrievable positions to quietly collect data and send it back to the owner over any available Wifi network. (emphasis added)
Previously, two “hackers” (they were actually intelligence agency security consultants) demoed a 14-pound drone under the label Project Vespid that showed the ability for anyone to build their own drone, invade any wireless network, Bluetooth, or GSM, and wiretap, steal data, corrupt the network, or even shut it down completely. This was supposed to be a warning of something new that the “bad guys” can get us with. Enter mega defense contractor Boeing – supposedly one of the “good guys” – who appear to have been exploring the exact same thing.
The corporate Washington Post offers up the details and even a few surprising admissions regarding the relationship between Boeing and surveillance tech company Hacking Team, but again spins it to imply that this is intended only to get those terrorists. My emphasis added.
According to e-mails posted by WikiLeaks … Boeing and Hacking Team — a Milan-based company criticized for selling surveillance software to repressive governments — were in talks earlier this year to plant malware on drones to perform such activities, according to the e-mails, which were stolen from Hacking Team in July.
According to an e-mail that summarizes the contents of a meeting between the two companies, Boeing was searching for a “ruggedized” network injector “transportable by drone (!).”
Drone and network analysts offer a scenario about how this type of technology could work:
A highly desired al-Qaeda operative is on the lam, hiding out in a bungalow in the foothills of some not-so-allied country, which may or may not be protecting him from U.S. detection. The American military could try hacking into that government’s computer network to look for intelligence, but reaching across the globe through a keyboard is pretty hard and time-consuming.
Or, the military could put an unmanned drone in the air equipped with malware to fly over the highly desired operative’s bungalow and conduct some surveillance.
Yes, it is has been proven to be quite tedious for the U.S. to hack governments – friendly or not – as mere keyboard warriors. But, no worries, that grunt work can be transferred to unmanned drones.
That kind of hardware on an unmanned aircraft would give its user the ability to conduct cyberwarfare and espionage in ways that formerly required close proximity with the target, according to those analysts.
“You want to be able to place yourself in the middle of traffic to surveil it or gain access to it,” said independent network researcher Collin Anderson. “What this gives you is the ability to be in the same room as all the other machines you’re tying to look out for.”
Regarding Boeing’s connection to the maligned Hacking Team, a “spokesman said Boeing and Hacking Team have ‘no business relationship at all.'” Boeing claims that they simply need to know what technology is out there, so that they can create or respond to new capabilities.
Interesting, too, is the admission that this is not as high tech as it sounds, further supporting the DIY meme shown by the 2011 demo that strengthens the military’s justification for taking action:
“Putting it on a drone sounds science fiction, but these tools are something that any high school student with a little technical knowledge can use,” Collins said.
WP ends their article with a cheeky throw-away line that, “And now, perhaps, they might also be able to help hack into your computer.”
The truth is that we already have a government which has been repeatedly exposed for working with domestic tech companies to spy on their own citizens in every manner possible. We also have a Congress that has welcomed drones into American skies. Add the final component of fear over hactivists and cyber threats of all stripes and it begins to sound like the “bad guys” are everywhere.