The Evolution of Drones in Cyber-Electronic Warfare (Blog Series)

Exploring the forthcoming evolution of our digital world, specifically as it unfolds in war.

In this online series we will conceptualize the nature of this new era of advanced cyber-electronic drones and how they will behave in this new cyber threat landscape. Drones are currently seen in the military and in the hobbyist warehouses, however much like how the early internet was known as the ARPANET military (a project that was open to and adopted by society). Who will adopt drones to prey on our communities, organizations and country? We find our digital networks under constant attack from hackers, crime-rings, terrorists, and nation state-backed hacker groups. It is important that we urgently take the time to research the capabilities of advanced cyber-electronic threats in order to prevent the new wave of advanced future attacks and learn how we can integrate what we find into our current military defences.

We find the physical universe is becoming increasingly malleable and fluid, much like the digital cosmos. The physical world we were born into is becoming more programmable. Technologies like 3D printing, nanotechnology, and the Internet-of-Things are ushering us into accepting a new digital/physical reality. Understanding how to secure and enforce our laws of society in the digital realm have proven to be the most crucial topics of today’s executives and leaders.

Society is trying to play catch-up with the usage of aerial combat and surveillance drones. In 2001, the Predator drone was the first weapon in history whose operators could use it to stalk and kill a single target located on the the other side of the with total invulnerability. The phenomenal flight endurance also made it a powerful new form of overhead intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. This one drone changed the way military people thought about unmanned aircraft, resulting in a drone revolution that has changed the way we wage war, altered the military, altered the CIA, reshaped the defence and aviation industries and is spreading in the civilian world faster than the Federal Aviation Administration can govern it.

But the Predator and drones like it are just the muscle. We all know that there is a totally different war going on, a cyber war, a war that values information gathering and espionage to better analyze your targets. In today’s information age, cyber warfare capabilities are based off infiltrating computer networks, stealthily obtaining data, and covering your tracks. In recent news weapon manufactures and research groups like the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania are experimenting with smaller swarm-like drones that collaborate together to accomplish advanced missions.

Small-sized/micro drones are easily manufactured using 3D printers and are designed to be modular, meaning each drone would have easily attachable/detectable tools, hardware and weapons. These small drones could perform semi-autonomous missions that require close encounter surveillance of targets within buildings or enclosed areas. Smaller drones can also assemble together to special formations and perform swarm-like behaviour that requires a high-level collaboration and specialized networking.

With the emergence of drones in the battlefield and cyber threat landscape what are the counter measures? How will we defend against the use of drones against us? In this online series we will discuss specialized tactics and technologies like wireless single jamming, intercepting directional wireless communication, drone hijacking, netting, harpooning, laser component targeting systems and even EMP bursts.

Below is quick look at some of topics this series will explore:

The Modular Drone:

Advanced cyber-electronic weaponized drones pose a new threat to our digital infrastructure and cyber-electronic modern militaries. Mass produced 3D printed drones that incorporate a modular design will effectively allow a single drone to be outfitted with removable RF jammers, wireless radios, payload carriers, nano-drones, microphones, speakers, laser targeting systems, robotic arm/manipulators and much more.

Modular drones can already be seen in the commercial Inspire 1 drone from DJI. The Inspire 1 drone is designed to have a modular port located at the bottom of the drone. This module port is used to easily connect and disconnect the Inspire 1’s 4K camera. This simple modular design could be incorporated in relatively cheap drones; this would increase the drone’s capabilities by allowing it to be equipped with a wide range of hardware tools and weapons...

Strategic Drone Tactics in the Urban Battlefield:

Military pilots use formations for mutual defence and concentration of firepower. Formation flying also has been discussed as a means to reduce fuel use by minimizing drag. Studies of birds have shown that the V formation can greatly enhance the overall aerodynamic efficiency by reducing the drag and thereby increasing the flight range.

The challenge of achieving safe formation flight by unmanned aerial vehicles has been extensively investigated in the 21st century with aircraft and spacecraft systems. For aerial vehicles the advantage of performing formation flight include fuel saving, improved efficiency in air traffic control and cooperative task allocation. Referencing the traditional swat tactics for sweeping urban blocks and buildings will assist in the 4 key areas of performing a successful urban missions...

Robotic swarm behaviour:

Swarm robotics is a new approach to the coordination of multi-robot systems which consist of large numbers of mostly simple physical robots. The goal of swarm robotics is to achieve a collective behaviour from the interactions between the robots and their environment. This approach emerged on the field of artificial swarm intelligence, as well as the biological studies of insects, ants and other fields in nature, where swarm behaviour occurs.

The key component in swarm robotics is the communication between the members of the group that build a system of constant feedback. The swarm behaviour involves constant change of individuals in a cooperation with others, as well as the behaviour of the whole group...

Infiltrating isolated computer networks:

Corporations, governments and individuals store sensitive data in isolated and encrypted computer networks. These networks are usually disconnected from external internet networks; it is also common practice for certain networking components to be uninstalled and completely removed from computers that process and store highly sensitive data.

For example, Iran’s nuclear program was built on an isolated computer network that made it difficult for any adversary to infiltrate. However, the well-known Stuxnet cyber weapon utilized the USB flash drive to propagate across the isolated network infecting PLC’s - causing physical destruction of the nuclear centrifuges...