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A Quick and Easy Primer on Anti-Droning Methods

Security professionals involved with drones or anti-drones must be vigilant about new and emerging methods for anti-droning.

Whether by hobbyists or business professionals, drones have been integrated across industries, and the friendly skies are getting a little crowded.

The drone industry, though still in its infancy, is estimated to grow to around $21.23B by 2022 – incredible, considering that even a few years ago, they were mostly thought of as toys.

However, with the increased usage of UAVs, comes additional threats to security and an emerging industry growing alongside to counter those threats – the Anti-Drone industry.

For example, as we have seen in recent headlines about the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, commercial drones are being repurposed to serve insurgent applications, unfortunately to ever increasing efficiency.

To squash these nefarious drones, our military utilizes anti-droning through various tactics to counter this new threat. With the anti-drone industry predicted to reach $1.14B by 2022, it’s important to understand how it translates to the civilian world.

Now first, lets break the anti-drone definition into two separate categories: detection and counter drone application.

Detection

I imagine it would be hard to stop a drone from inflicting damage if you didn’t know it were there. Typically, the first step to counter a drone is to track it. Detection of drones can be accomplished through a few different methods, the easiest being to monitor for transmissions, such as radio frequency (RF), sound or active visual transmissions.

For RF transmissions, you look at the transmission links of the drone, which typically operate on a WiFi frequency – most commonly either 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz. To use sound, you may be able to detect the typical sound given off by the propellers of a drone, which only works at short range.

Lastly, depending on the drone, you could use active visual transmissions in the form of laser – LIDAR systems would be a prime example. The problem here is that LIDAR is only on a small fraction of drones for specialized uses, so it doesn’t make economic sense to build an anti-drone system with this detection method.

Another method completely is to use visual cameras to detect drones, but the algorithms required to accurately detect a drone in the wide variety of scenarios of the real world makes this detection method difficult, though not impossible.

There are many detection systems available that use visual only methods; however, the most efficient drone detection systems combine several of these methods to accurately detect the drone in question.


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Counter Drone

The far more difficult aspect of the emerging Anti-Drone industry is the counter-drone component. For many real-world applications, simply detecting a drone is not enough – we must also have a process to defeat, disable, or at least, prevent the drone from accessing certain areas.

Just like detection, there are many different ways of countering a drone; the crudest way is the “shoot it down” method. While this is certainly the most effective way to stop a drone in its tracks, collateral damage (i.e. massive lawsuits, injury when the drone falls etc.) prevents this from being used regularly in the civilian world.

When this solution is not available, there are some systems that physically catch the drone, either with a net from another drone or more famously, using eagles (yes, the bird) to snatch the drone.

Yet, the most widespread method remains preventing or spoofing the drone’s control links, which then forces a drone to return to its “home point.” This is the most elegant way of countering a drone, but it brings other challenges, mainly legalities.

Since most drones use WiFi frequencies (as discussed above), broad level jamming (as defined by FCC regulations as any interference with a wide range of signal) is strictly forbidden in the U.S. because it would interfere with things like ambulance frequencies, police radio and civilian devices.

Although many companies currently on the market do “interfere” with WiFi signals using various schemes and methods, with the regulations written as broadly as they are, it is very difficult to find a loophole and I would caution a security company from partnering with jamming programs.

These types of jamming systems will inevitably require FCC approvals/certifications, which I predict will become very difficult to earn.

Looking forward, counter droning using signal interference will become even more difficult as the drone industry moves toward cellular networks to provide beyond line of sight communications via the nations cellular infrastructure.

Being able to fly a drone that uses LTE Cell Signals for command and control will be extremely beneficial for the drone industry, but the counter drone industry will have major difficulties to do anything beyond detection (legally speaking).

As with most new technologies, innovation in the anti-droning industry is less of a technical challenge and much more of a legal minefield.

Security professionals involved with drones or anti-drones must be vigilant about new and emerging methods for anti-droning, and don’t expect that simply because a company builds an anti-drone system, they’ve already received all the required blessings. For now, the only way around this is to do your homework…

Andy Von Stauffenberg is CEO of VStar Systems.


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