Drones in Public and Private Areas

Published: 2021-09-12 22:30:12
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In recent years, the advancement of technology in the area of Robotics has led to the development of autonomous vehicles. These vehicles, also known as unmanned vehicles can be grouped into four categories, Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs) which it operates on the surface of water, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (Nonami et al., 2010).
According to Finn and Wright (2012), drones are regarded as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which are devices “used or intended to be used for flight in the air that has no onboard pilot”, and designed to be flown remotely by a ground control operator. The development and adoption of drones are currently on the increase, with applications in military and civil use (Nonami et al., 2010). With the small drones becoming a lot common these days, the use of these devices has gone beyond military use to commercial and personal use, enabled by the penetration of smartphones and tablets as controllers (Birnbach, Baker and Martinovic, 2017).While these UAVs devices were originally developed for the defense industry for remote military operations (Ntalakas et al., 2017), the use of drones outside the military has been in various fields. Finn and Wright (2012) highlight how the law enforcement has benefited from the use of drones in the UK for crowd control in sporting events or festivals to preventing or responding to crime, and even making an arrest. Another area that has recorded the use of drones is border patrol by the US, along with the US-Mexico border and the US-Canada border. Drones have also demonstrated to be efficient and cost-effective in disaster-relief operations (Chowdhury et al., 2017), feasible transportation of blood (Amukele et al., 2016) and to map aquatic habitats in mosquito vector-borne disease elimination campaigns (Hardy et al., 2017). Logistics and delivery services for the e-commerce market is another area gaining much traction in the use of a drone, with Amazon.com taking the lead under the Amazon Prime Air UAV Delivery Service (Jung and Kim, 2017). Use of drones has also been proven to have a positive environmental impact when compared to the use of motorcycles (Park, Kim and Suh, 2018). A 2018 report by Northsydneyinnovation.org shows the huge adoption of drones in aerial photography, contributing to the largest segment of the civilian drone market (northsydneyinnovation.org, 2018). A recent review of the use of these drones also indicates areas including Real Estate (for surveying), Fisheries and Agriculture, Film and TV, Oil and Gas, Construction, Wildlife management and more (Constantine and Rey, 2017).
The applications of drone and its technology are growing fast, leading to new developments as drones that need a ground controller, to drones designed to accommodate passengers. In 2017, Facebook tested a drone developed by the company for Internet service provision to remote areas of the world (Hodgkinson and Johnston (2018). The rise in the civilian use of drones for business and hobby has led to huge market sales. Business Insider reported 2016 sales of drones at about $8.5 billion (expected to surpass $21 billion by the year 2021) with Goldman Sachs forecasting “a $100 billion market opportunity for drones” as at the same year (cited in Hodgkinson and Johnston, 2018). A recent study by PWC on the impact of drones on the UK economy predicts that by the year 2030, there could be a £42bn increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) for the UK, saving up to £16 billion in net cost, with about 76,000 drones up in the skies and 628,000 jobs created due to the drone economy (PWC, 2018).
Limitations and Vulnerabilities in Civilian Use of Drones
Drones are expected to be a key part of smart cities in the near future, however, there is a number of vulnerabilities that plague the technology behind drones today, alongside limitations in the use of these devices (Guvenc et al., 2018). The vulnerabilities of drones, coupled with the rise in civilian use has opened up privacy and security issues with questions around data collected by drones in public and private areas, the storage of that data, its circulation and custodian (Chang, Chundury and Chetty, 2017).
Privacy Issues
Drones with cameras to capture videos or images can violate personal privacy (Guvenc et al., 2018). According to Mills (2008), privacy is said to be the right to be left alone and this can be in form of freedom of choice, personal information privacy, or having control over property and physical space. To add to this, Moor (cited in Hodgkinson and Johnston, 2018) maintains that privacy shields us from the harm that could befall us if someone else gains knowledge of our private information, which is true, especially in today’s technology-driven society. We will focus on personal information and physical space privacy. Drones can go hundreds of feet in the air while capturing images of the environment and the people on the ground. Its aerial perspective and flying prowess present a new data capturing and distribution potentials that can be used for advanced surveillance (Farber and Nodiff, 2017). What people understand and believe to be privacy in their homes and living spaces is under threat of unauthorized surveillance as people are beginning to tell stories of sighting drones around their residential space, including windows and balconies (ibid). The recording capabilities of these drones are enabling drone owners to capture images of people or record sound and videos of people without permission. In the UK, cases of “peep toms” and perverts using drones to spy on people have been reported (Hopkins, 2017). While some believe these concerns are similar to the early introduction of camera on smartphones which today is not an issue as initially feared, others feel the capability of drones to reach places that weren’t possible before makes it more of a threat (Farber and Nodiff, 2017), citing how some are small enough to operate without being noticed (Hodgkinson and Johnston, 2018). A 2017 report by the University of Southern Denmark, Aalborg University and The Danish Transport, Construction and Housing Authority, aimed at finding out the concerns held by the public regarding privacy when it comes to the use of drones around their homes and public areas highlights some of the biggest concerns to be the possibility of these drones to “capture inappropriate private images” (Bajde et al., 2017). While it must be said that not all drones are equipped with a recording device, another point of worry highlighted in the study is the fact that it is hard to tell if a drone has a camera mounted on it or not, alongside other questions around the operator of the drone and the purpose of flight (ibid).
Through data mining, it is possible to profile a person’s interest and behavior from sounds, videos, images and location data gathered from a drone. This information can be mined for profits by marketers and businesses (Altawy and Youssef, 2016). According to Gittleson (cited in Altawy and Youssef, 2016), other types of personal information like real-time location data, contacts, browsing history and more can be collected if a concept known as Snoopy. It is the installation of a malicious software on a drone, which is then used for profiling by a wireless localization of a person’s smartphone. A drone carrying this malicious software can exploit a smart phone’s internet network auto-search feature by impersonating a trusted network on the phone, thereby misleading the phone into connecting to the fake network. This gives the drone and its operator access to the MAC address of the phone and all information entered as long as the connection is alive. This leads to the security issues in the civilian use of drones.
Security Issues
In terms of security, drones are vulnerable to various attacks by different kind of attackers depending on the motive and resource available. From persons who want to impress their friends or simply because they are able to do the attack to criminals that are financially motivated or spies looking to access to an organization’s network and abusers looking to pry on the safety and privacy of others (Verup and Olin, 2016). Altawy and Youssef (2016) detail the cyber-security threats targeted toward Flight Controller and Ground Control Station or the communication data link. One of these attacks is spoofing the Global Positioning System data used in navigation. Relying on GPS signals for its navigation exposes drones to spoofing attacks that disconnects its navigation feed resulting in either a crash or hijack as demonstrated in Kerns at al (cited in Altawy and Youssef, 2016) where a group of students replicated the GPS signals of a drone, channelled it to the drone and it reacted to the spurious signals. This attack, if combined with manipulation of video footages from Autonomous low-altitude drones (this type of drone relies on the captured video to avoid collisions on-air), an attacker can hijack not just an autonomous drone but also one with a human operator (ibid). As with most IoT devices, the lack of user authentication is also a vulnerability in drones.
Unlike personal computers and smart mobile phones, IoT devices are generally weak in user authentication. An attacker can carry out a de-authentication attack on a drone controlled with a mobile device, revoke access for the real owner from the access point and take over the drone (Valente and Cardenas, 2017). With the availability of the drone app in Google Play store of Apple’s app store, it is easy for the attacker to download a version of the drone app and use this against the victim. Some drones with FTP servers can be taken down by using the telnet access which is open by default and can easily be accessed through FTP server exploitation (ibid). Aside from cyber-attacks, drones are obviously subject to theft and vandalism. Hodgkins (2015) made the case for the use of dart guns or an anti-drone rifle to take down drones with a 1300ft distance. These anti-drone rifles are designed to disrupt data link communication which results in a system failure, forcing the drone to discontinue flight (cited in Altawy and Youssef, 2016). The issue of theft and vandalism can lead to losses that are well beyond the drone device when used for delivery of goods. No matter the technical authentication that can be used to ensure the parcel isn’t delivered to the wrong recipient, a thief can still make away with the whole device (Altawy and Youssef, 2016). Another limitation of drones is in dealing with harsh weather conditions. A delivery drone will have to beat thunderstorms and all possible weather turbulence to complete a delivery operation. This can cause accidents and loss of properties (ibid). Apart from security attacks on drones, drones can also aid terrorist groups in carrying out attacks such as flying explosives, conveying radioactive materials or guns in targeted attacks on people and infrastructures (Guvenc et al., 2018).

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