Drone usage is continuing to grow, but how can anyone tell if they are capturing video or just flying around for fun.
That knowledge may soon change as the first technique to detect a drone camera illicitly capturing video is now in development from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Weizmann Institute of Science cyber security researchers.
The study addresses increasing concerns about the proliferation of drone use for personal and business applications and how it is impinging on privacy and safety.
In a new paper, “Game of Drones — Detecting Captured Target from an Encrypted Video Stream,” the researchers demonstrate techniques for detecting if a targeted subject or house is being recorded by a drone camera.
“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,” said Ben Nassi, a Ph.D. student in the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and a researcher at the BGU Cyber Security Research Center (CSRC). “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.”
In one demo, researchers show how a privacy invasion against a house can be detected. They used smart film placed on a window and entered a few software commands on a laptop to access the encrypted video the drone operator sees, called the FPV channel. This enabled the researchers to demonstrate how they detect that a neighbor is using a DJI Mavic drone to capture images of his own home and then illicitly stream video of his neighbor’s house, as well.
In a second outdoor test, researchers found how an LED strip attached to a person wearing a white shirt can be used to detect targeted drone activity. When researchers flickered the LED lights on the cyber-shirt, it caused the FPV channel to send an “SOS” by modulating changes in data sent by the flickering lights.
“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. “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.”
This method can be used on any laptop that runs Linux OS and does not require any sophisticated hacking or cryptographic breaking skills.
“Our findings may help thwart privacy invasion attacks that are becoming more common with increasing drone use,” Nassi said. “This could have significant impact for the military and for consumers because a victim can now legally prove that a neighbor was invading their privacy.”