Drones - Countering Criminal Usage

Tri, Quad, Hexa and Octocopters. Multi-rotor micro copters are so numerous and advanced, that they are in use by criminal elements for various purposes. Their utility will expand along with criminal creativity. Imagine our government’s “official” uses:

  • Gathering information from hacking into private WiFi networks
  • Spoofing cell towers to snoop on cell phone conversations and text exchanges
  • Spying on private on-goings
  • Listening in via microphone
  • Assaulting with lights, tazers, guns and flash-bang grenades
  • Starting fires
  • Illuminating dark areas
  • Infiltrating buildings, culverts and other man-made structures

Now, imagine criminal elements adapting some of these “talents” for their own purposes, or even expanding on concepts and technological reliability. How might cartels, local gangs, blackmailers and other use airborne assets to further their plans?

The machine’s capabilities aren’t really an issue. What is important is that everything a certain capability allows is defeated by rendering the technology, or its output, useless.

The Known Intruder

One surefire method of defeating a known nearby drone is to knock it out of the air. Fantasies of your own drone-mounted shotgun might come into play, but they would be misguided at best. I would never suggest the arming of a drone with anything even remotely dangerous to a human being. Any weapon system sent aloft on a radio controlled aircraft is inherently dangerous to innocent individuals. No one can swear to complete operational control. Accidents happen. Controls fail.   No. To knock out a drone, a defender needs only to disrupt its flight capability.

Quad from Heliguy.com

Picture from heliguy.com

Rotor craft have no wings, and will not fly if their propellers are stopped. My personal preference for blade stoppage is common string. A length of string placed into the prop stream will quickly wrap up the prop and motor, and stall the blades. Scratch one lift point. Wrap up two or more, and most drones will crash to the ground without any help available. Some will lose roll capability and go down after the failure of just one rotor.

Your own defensive drone can be used to deploy the string. Approaching from above and behind, the interceptor releases multiple strings, with ball bearing weights at each end, (or big treble hooks) as it passes over the intruder. The release mech and deployment system need not be a complicated device. It might include a tube with a spring-loaded ejector. It might simply be a retractable hook that releases strings hanging from below. The simplest method may be to have a long string hanging from a small pair of rubber coated fingers sprung together in a low pressure grip. At the bottom of the length of string is a weight used to control how the string trails. Fly the over the intruder drone and the string gets caught up, pulled from the fingers and away from the interceptor. However it is done, wrapping up the intruder’s props is a guaranteed end to its flight plan. The nice thing about crashing drones is that some of their tech is recoverable afterward. This means the bad guy’s stuff becomes the defender’s stuff.

How can you detect the drone in your area? They are hard enough to see in day time. Camo schemes make them hard to see in the sky. At night? Forget it. But, they do have electric components, and those get warm. It might be possible to see them with a thermal imager such as made by FLIR. These are expensive, but you can locate used units at steep discounts. Check for other brands. A warm device will stand out clearly against the cold of the sky. What detection depends upon is the resolution and detection range of the unit itself. The higher the resolution, the sharper the image.

I’m not sure if a dog can be trained to recognize the sound of a drone. It’s possible, in the absence of other loud noises, that he might possess the ability to do so. From a training standpoint, getting the dog to hear it above him might be difficult. I don’t know if areal focus is wired into a dog’s head. It may be worth exploring.

Have you ever seen barrage balloons? They were small gas filled blimps suspended above an area by steel lines. Enemy aircraft attempting to fly through that area would be cut to pieces and crash. I suppose a similar method might apply to low flying drones. Mylar balloons held in place above by nylon string would potentially tie up rotors at random. Remember, the visibility provided to a drone operator by his camera is not as good as our eyes. If the field of view is sufficiently wide to navigate, the ability to see small objects decreases. String might not be visible at all. He may see the balloons, though. If he’s a history buff, he might guess their purpose. If he can’t see the lines, he may opt to move further away.

The Unknown Intruder

How does one go about defeating a drone whose presence is a secret? Some eavesdropping /spying capabilities can be defeated even if you know nothing about the action against you.

Videotaping only works line-of-sight. It is subject to lighting. Cameras don’t do well when they are looking into shadows from a lighted area, or looking into lights in an effort to see into a room, or even an outdoor event. If you wish to create a video-proof space, use light to your advantage.

A set of innocent sconce lights, porch light style, installed alongside certain windows, will create a reflection on the glass itself. Unless the interior lighting is strong enough to overpower the sconces, it will not be clearly recorded by a camera. The brighter the lights inside, the easier it is for cameras outside to “see” in. Sconce lighting appears to be innocent if it makes architectural sense for the building, and has balance. If two windows are decorated with these lights, the other four would make them look out of place. This may lead to a need for a lot of lights! That in itself could appear strange. But if a few lights will work, they should be used.

An alternative to bright outdoor lights are bright infrared outdoor lights. Many cameras are subject to glare when looking at IR lights. There was a chap in Britain running around with IR LEDs fitted into the brim of a ball cap. These LEDs blinded the CCTV security cameras that are so damnably present on that side of the pond. I couldn’t locate that video, but I found a couple others. The first one is a quick and dirty method of building one, and best yet, showing how effective it is.

Here is some more information.

Infrared torches and flood lights, used to illuminate an area so that a defender’s own infrared security cameras can see intruders at night, without lighting the place up via regular lighting, will also have an effect. The key is in light placement. The illuminator needs to be near the position to be masked, and pointed in the general direction of the supposed camera rig. This also applies to overhead cameras. If a drone is viewing bird’s eye mode, a few floods pointed up will help defeat them.

In an effort to harden cameras against IR jamming, some manufacturers build in a device called a bandpass filter. In practice, they work around 820nm. Your IR system needs to operate even higher, say, above 930. A mix of IRs LEDs operating across the spectrum will yield the best results.

WiFi access control is a problem even under normal conditions. When a hacker sets his mind to breaking into your network, you have bigger problems. Every home WiFi network should have a configuration something like this.

  • No SSID broadcast. This means, no WiFi sensor in the area will “hear” your network yelling its name to all the world. Any guest that wants to use your network will need to ask for its name, authentication method and password.
  • Authentication method should be WPA2. It’s the strongest method available on publicly available hardware.
  • Password needs to be a nonsensical jumble such as SD8o6Nc55P. Something no one would ever guess using a dictionary attack or knowledge of your personal biography.

Your wireless network range should not extend very far beyond the borders of your house. Test this by using your smartphone to access the network from outside. You should lose the ability to see the network not far from the building’s walls. If the signal is strong in certain outdoors areas, relocate the router to a more central interior spot, or go into its settings page and turn down the transmit power, if that option exists. If you still can’t get the signal down, you have a problem.

Setup access lists. You may be able to create a list within the router, of all wireless devices you wish to certify for access. This procedure is different for various manufacturers, so you’ll need to check the documentation. Lists are built on the MAC address of the allowed devices – their unique address. Every device has a MAC address that identifies it to networks. It is needed for transmission control and routing. Getting an uneasy feeling? Unique address? Yes, they can be tracked. Staying untracked in a mobile world is an entirely different topic, and requires some dedication and discipline in practice.

Shut down WiFi access during times when it isn’t needed. We block access over night, here at The Keep. It gets shut down via a scheduled process in our router, and doesn’t come back on until morning. We don’t want someone coming onto the property and sniffing around while we sleep.

A persistent perch and listen drone is designed to sit on the roof and try various hacking means via remote control. It is a sophisticated piece of equipment. Bad guys would love to have them, and I expect their ownership roles will grow quickly. It has a limited time on target before it needs to fly off to recharge. The military versions will actually recharge on station through inductive charging, if they can set down near a power line or a power bus in the building itself. These creatures are difficult to beat if they get close undetected. Such a drone really is a listening post that can be moved at will. Locking down WiFi access, and having the ability to record failed access attempts is beyond this article, but you can do searches on this kind of security. It’s all over the web.

Spoofed cell towers are a huge problem for a security guy. How do you know your phone is communicating only through a relay? Here are some articles to bust your security bubble.


Protecting yourself against a drone that settles into the area with a StingRay system aboard is hard. By the time something like this is in play, you are under Federal investigation, or the target of bad guys that believe you have something very valuable – and they want it. On a side note: There are some “mystery” towers doing this very thing, except that a case is made that they are not NSA units, or even real towers in some cases. Some of them might just be listening posts as described here.

Securing Texts (and maybe voice) Data – Render Captured Data Useless

If you can’t block spies from intercepting calls, perhaps you can make the intercepted data useless to them? Using encryption to secure your text and voice data is an idea that has been around a while, but remains cumbersome and potentially illegal. It’s up to each user, and his network, to decide how best to go about this. There are apps available for iOS and Android users. A quick search for this topic brings up these results fairly quickly.

You get the idea. If you have a phone you want secured, start searching. Perhaps the bad guys can pull off a successful interdiction of your data and voice. If they can’t make heads or tails out of it, they will be scratching their heads.

When you find a security app you like, always do further research. Check around for accounts of the app failing to do its job. Check ratings, and don’t settle for anything that has bad reviews, unless those are massively outweighed by excellent reviews. Stay away from yesterday’s hot app. I mean yesterday as in, “It’s new on the market! Released just last week!”  A security app needs time to mature and to gather those great reviews. If a new product has stunning reviews within weeks of its release, they’re probably fake. Don’t believe reviews that are short and ecstatic. Those are fake, too.

Wrap Up

So, that’s it for this small post. I hope it gives you ideas. As always, check regulations to see if what you decide to do is legal. It would be a bad thing to wind up in a cell next to the thief that tried to ruin you. In the end, protecting you and yours is something that is a very personal decision. Do what you believe is best for those you love.


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