With a new story about drones every day, these “toy planes” are increasingly in the spotlight. Tracking terrorists and even monitoring climate change: drones can have honourable uses. But experts warn that these flying AI robots pose a serious threat to our lives and privacy.
For instance, Boeing is considering incorporating spyware from cybersecurity firm Hacking Team in drones, leaked emails have revealed. The wireless hacking hardware from the Italian firm, would allow drones to snap a lot more than just pictures.
“Forget safeguarding drones against hacks — if Boeing and Hacking Team have their way, robotic aircraft would dish out a few internet attacks of their own,” Engadget said.
What were Boeing and Hacking Team plotting?
According to email conversations posted on WikiLeaks the two companies are interested in “infecting” targets “through wi-fi into airborne”. Basically they envisioned drones able to carry devices that inject spyware into marked computers through WiFi networks. That the two companies were in contact became clear after emails were leaked in the 400GB attack on Hacking Team, which took place in early July.
The Drones Saga
Boeing’s subsidiary Insitu contacted the security firm after a showcase at an Abu Dhabi defence conference in February and saw potential in a wireless hacking tool developed by Hacking Team.
“We see potential in integrating your Wi-Fi hacking capability into an airborne system and would be interested in starting a conversation with one of your engineers to go over, in more depth, the payload capabilities including the detailed size, weight, and power specs of your Galileo System,” Giuseppe Venneri, mechanical engineer intern at Insitu wrote.
Giancarlo Russo, chief operating officer at Hacking Team, wrote back specifying that additional legal verification was needed regarding the applicability of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation and other US law, but insisted that for a preliminary discussion their non-disclosure agreement would be sufficient to protect both companies “It will make things easier and faster for us,” he said.
Although the conversation was still in the early stages as of the leak, the news that drones will disrupt the delicate balance between security and privacy is plausible.
WikiLeaks talks of Orwell’s World
WikiLeaks has recently released more than 1 million searchable emails from the Italian surveillance “malware vendor” Hacking Team. The firm, which lists on Reporters Without Borders on Enemies of the Internet index, first became under international scrutiny after WikiLeaks published the SpyFiles.
“Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries. It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality,” Wikileaks wrote.
Hacking Team was among the 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry featuring in WikiLeaks’ SpyFiles. It is said to have deals with Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon; “making billions selling sophisticated tracking tools to government buyers, flouting export rules, and turning a blind eye to dictatorial regimes that abuse human rights”.
Now, we all know that drones will integrate increasingly sophisticated technology, but how can international regulations keep up? What do you think of spyware in drones? Pro or against? Share your views in the comments section below.