6 Ways to Down a Drone

Approx read: 2 mins

1.     Zap it.

The Compact Laser Weapons System is a smaller, lighter version of the tank-mounted US military device known as the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. In other words, it’s a ray gun. Boeing’s latest keeps it simple: there’s a battery, a cooling system, a beam guide and a 2 kilowatt laser.

2 kilowatts may not seem like much, but the laser does its work by concentrating the energy into a very small space. Boom.

‘Think of it like a welding torch being put on a target, but from hundreds and hundreds of meters away,’ explains Boeing engineer Isaac Neal, in the really, really cool video. Spoiler alert: explosives ensue.

2.      Jam it.

The Anti-UAV Defence System uses radar to detect unwanted UAV activity, tracks it and then blasts it with radio waves. Since most UAVs are controlled via radio waves, the confused device freezes in place until it runs out of juice and falls out of the sky.

AUDS can be used by day or night, as the tracking system employs thermal imaging, and can spot the enemy 8 kilometres out.  Multiple antennas keep the jamming radio signal focused on the drone and out of grandpa’s hearing aid.

If you don’t feel like using specialised equipment (ray guns are kinda hard to explain away) just talk to your trusty local hacker.

A research project led by scientist Lanier Watkins at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute checked the security of a popular over-the-counter UAV. Watkins: ‘Security shouldn’t be an afterthought.’

Oh, but it is!

Hackers found 3 ways to neutralize UAVs using nothing more than a computer.

3.     Friend-request it.

The hackers found that a flood of wireless connection requests overwhelmed the processor.

4.     Dump it.

Researchers also experimented with huge data uploads. Overwhelmed by TMI, the drones quickly came back to earth.

5.     Lie to it.

The Johns Hopkins hackers sent constant messages to the UAV, telling it that it really was grandma, and not the big bad wolf. Eventually, the UAV accepted commands from the BBW and made an emergency landing.

And finally:

6.     Leak it.

Apparently those computers people are so crazy to fly aren’t password-protected, so there’s nothing to stop a hacker from downloading (or uploading) information from UAVs. This may not stop the machine, but could make the UAV, and all devices synced with it, vulnerable.


Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.