Security

Security researchers can detect when spy drones are filming you

Methods detailed by BGU and Weizmann Institute of Science researchers can tell users if they're being illicitly filmed by a drone.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Weizmann Institute of Science cybersecurity researchers found methods to determine if a drone is illegally filming someone.
  • The methods could provide legal proof that an attacker was spying on a person or business.

A group of security researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Weizmann Institute of Science have developed techniques that can determine if someone is using a drone to illicitly film someone. The research was detailed in an academic paper released in early January.

Concerns of privacy invasions by way of drones—especially those with attached cameras—have skyrocketed in recent months. The methods detailed by these researchers could help individuals and businesses protect their privacy, and give them legal proof of a spying attempt.

The methods can be used to determine if an individual person or a building is being targeted, according to a press release announcing the research.

SEE: Drone policy template (Tech Pro Research)

"The beauty of this research is that someone using only a laptop and an object that flickers can detect if someone is using a drone to spy on them," BGU researcher Ben Nassi said in the release. "While it has been possible to detect a drone, now someone can also tell if it is recording a video of your location or something else."

To start, the researchers first had to gain access to the encrypted video seen by the drone operator. Once they had access to that feed, they used a blinking smart film over a window to create a physical stimulus that impacted the bitrate of the traffic, the release said. This allowed them to determine if the drone was trying to spy through that window. A demo of this technique can be viewed on YouTube.

In a second test, researchers used a blinking LED strip on an individual's white t-shirt to create a similar stimulus, the release said. This also affected the bitrate and allowed researchers to determine if an individual person was being targeted for spying.

"This research shatters the commonly held belief that using encryption to secure the FPV channel prevents someone from knowing they are being tracked," Nassi said in the release. "The secret behind our method is to force controlled physical changes to the captured target that influence the bitrate (data) transmitted on the FPV channel."

Any user with a laptop running Linux can repeat these experiments, the release noted. It doesn't require a specialized PC or sophisticated hacking skills. This could make it easier for non-technical individuals to protect their privacy from attempted drone snooping.

Also see

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Image: Joshua Goldman/CNET

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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