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A Drone Wielding Terrorist in just 30 minutes

Posted on 7th August 2018

Having written quite extensively about the threat of a drone being used to attack people and infrastructure, I wanted to investigate just how easy it was to use these “hobby craft” for no good.

Alleged footage from the Presidential drone attack shows a drone hover before exploding

Since coming up with the idea to write this article, there was an alleged drone attack on the Venezuelan President whilst giving a speech at a military parade. On the live feed, the president and his wife looked startled staring into the sky, then there were audible explosions and the crowd could be seen running.

Seven soldiers were injured, luckily there were no deaths reported.

Initially, I recognised the idea of a threat from a drone. Having been in the military I was aware of just how powerful some of the drone technology out there is, but I hadn’t pictured this thread materialising on an everyday level.
Why would a person launch a drone attack over other methods which we’ve almost become numb to?

Out of sight, out of mind

The most obvious is anonymity.

A drone or Unmanned Ariel System (UAS) operator can be completely hidden when flying the device, and therefore remain undiscovered and able to launch multiple attacks.
An operator (pilot, controller, etc.) could easily recce routes, run soft tests on breaching security measures or even pilot a dry run multiple times without being caught.

Consider this, if a drone flew near enough to you right now to do damage, then left – what could you do about it?

Will it return? If it does, what will you be able to do?

But, what about the cost or the limitations of “over the counter” technology? I thought there would be failsafe’s in place to ensure this tech isn’t readily available.
I took to Google to start researching what over the counter drones are suitable for.

10 minutes in:

Well, it looks as though DJI are leading the way in every review out there. For a few thousand dollars (and free delivery) I can have a drone capable of automated flight modes, subject recognition and tracking, obstacle detection and avoidance as well as 5.2K quality video.

The DJI’s requires the DJI app in order to fly, which comes in with the 400m height limit, pre-set no-fly zones (NFZ) and limitations on speed.

15 minutes in:

I’m on a site called “CopterSafe”. For $600 I can instantly download software which will:

  • Allow my drone to fly in NFZ’s
  • Allow my drone to fly as high as my signal allows (a YouTube search will show 700ft+)
  • Increase speed to 65mph+
  • Increase range to 7km from base

25 minutes in:

So, for under $4000 I can get my hands on a drone capable of flying pretty much anywhere.
If I’m conducting recce’s or looking to spy on someone, I’m good to go. I suspect the lightweight nature of drones may keep them from carrying anything too heavy, so I opened YouTube to search for videos where drones have carried objects.

First off, I stumbled across some homemade drones lifting a ridiculous 22kg+ barrel of water. It didn’t get far but even carrying 7-10kg of explosives could be disastrous.

What about our shop bought, safety removed drone though?

Flying bombs

It seems 2-2.5lb (around 1kg) is manageable for our drone. Some smaller models may struggle is the payload was to sway beneath, but this could be adapted with some tape.

A demo explosion using 1lb of plastic explosive

I was quite surprised at just how easy this all seems. I know I have no flight experience to conduct this imaginary mission, but from videos and forums, it seems the basic skills needed don’t take too long to acquire.
The weight carried may not seem too heavy but having seen first-hand the power from just 1lb (<0.5kg) of plastic explosives, the possibilities are quite scary.

Once again, Google and YouTube provide endless lists of the destructive power of such a small quantity of explosives. There are demonstrations of 1.25lb of c4 cutting through steel, and explanations into the power created from a shaped charge.
These may not seem too dangerous in the bigger picture to people and infrastructure, but by coordinating multiple drones or adding shrapnel to these devices the possibilities leap in terms of destructive power.

While these may not be easy to get your hands on, it’s possible, and a quick search online will present over the counter alternatives. There’s also a video of a drone-mounted handgun firing several rounds available online – meaning all equipment needed can be acquired legally in some countries.

In the space of 30 minutes, I had researched and could have ordered a piece of tech capable of delivering explosives, bio hazardous chemicals or simply spying on people and facilities.
These steps are being undertaken right now by terror groups and individuals. Thankfully, our security services foil planned attacks on a weekly basis before they cause harm, but it’s only a matter of time before legally purchased drones are used to purposely cause harm to others.

As we saw over the weekend in Venezuela, the clear majority are unprepared for such an attack. The technology to counter this threat is readily available, but it may only become common to see these countermeasures after a horrific attack.

Don’t risk your safety and privacy.