Drones Flying Low on Cyber Security

by October 26, 2016 0 comments

By Sanjai Gangadharan, Regional Director, SAARC, A10 Networks

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), have been around for a few years, and they have been put to use in various fields. Consumer drones are big now and they will get even bigger in the next couple of years, with expectations to generate over $1 billion in revenues. Due to its increasing affordability, these devices have become popular in recent times with even hobbyists and prosumers deploying drones for things like wedding photography. However their increased popularity will also introduce new cyber security and physical security risks.

Sanjai Gangadharan, Regional Director, SAARC, A10 Networks

Sanjai Gangadharan, Regional Director, SAARC, A10 Networks

In India, most cities have banned the use of drones by civilians without prior permission1. Considering the tremendous potential drones have in industrial and civil government applications, it won’t be long before the government creates a set of guidelines for the commercial use of drones1 after which we will see a rise in the demand for UAVs’. As of now, only government organisations can fly drones. Apart from the military, Karnataka police became one of the first police departments in the country to own a UAV fleet, acquiring a total of 12 drones.

Drones serve a myriad of purposes, from military to agricultural to surveillance applications to even delivering packages from the sky. In 2015, during the torrential December floods in Chennai, police used drones to locate and rescue 200 stranded citizens. They also could help energy companies monitor their infrastructure4. Drones could even enable emergency response teams to quickly map the extent of damage after natural disasters like how drones were of immense help after an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude rocked Nepal last year5. Drones could also be deployed to monitor traffic and in crowd management through surveillance. Also with the government taking the initiative of building smart cities drones could be of tremendous help in managing traffic, street surveillance and weather monitoring among other things6.

While drones are a blessing, they can also become vulnerability. Government controlled drones carry critical information like military location, and if such data fall into the wrong hands, it will pose a serious threat to the country. In additional to being a potential national security risk, drones can also pose problems ranging from privacy invasion to corporate espionage to terrorism. While news headlines tell of drone owners that have spied on their neighbours, drones can also be used to snoop on confidential projects or gather competitive intelligence.


Most drones rely on unencrypted data links for command and control and navigation, which means they are particularly vulnerable to jamming, interception and manipulation7. There is also fear over research suggesting that drones could also be attacked electronically. As for data storage and transfer, drones support features like encryption, IoT, mobility and cloud which are vulnerable to cyber security risks.

The need of the hour is better awareness and better cyber-security practices in respect to drones. The security of drones could be compromised if a potential DDoS or a malware were to attack it. To prepare for these risks, organizations should implement a multi-layered defence that can protect servers and endpoints, whether those servers are hosted in a data centres or in the cloud and whether endpoints are traditional computers or mobile devices. While employees cannot always predict the future, organizations will be ready to handle future risks with the right security technologies and processes in place.

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