Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), a.k.a drones, have brought significant advancements and benefits to various industries, and so we can see their use is growing exponentially. However, the good goes hand in hand with the bad as their misuse by criminals and individuals with malicious intent has become a growing concern as well.
In this article we will go over alarming incidents involving drones (UAS) and unmanned aerial vehicles, such as attacks involving law enforcement agencies, disruptions at critical facilities, and border conflicts. By examining these incidents, we will emphasize the need to understand the risks associated with drone misuse and to implement effective counter-drone technology.
Drones (UAS) Exploited by Criminals
Unmanned Drones have become an attractive tool for criminals seeking to carry out harmful activities discreetly and remotely. The versatility and accessibility, the ability to equip the different UAV/UAS with GPS, cameras, night vision equipment, up to dangerous explosives, have made them a preferred choice for various criminal enterprises.
Examples of drone exploitation by criminals include smuggling, surveillance and reconnaissance, and plain attacks.
- Smuggling contraband across borders, such as illegal drugs, tobacco, weapons, and prohibited goods, using unmanned drones equipped with advanced capabilities. Those capabilities allow the UAS to fly undetected, making it difficult for authorities to intercept their operations or find their controller.
- Deploying drones for surveillance and reconnaissance to gather intelligence and monitor different types of areas. This utilization of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV drones) provides criminals with a significant advantage in planning and executing their illicit operations:
- Drones have been detected in the UK as being used to monitor areas where criminal activity is taking place, serving as a lookout to alert criminals in the event of law enforcement intervention.
- It is said that a drone has been used to scan the prison where Infamous French Criminal Redoine Faid Was serving a 25-year-sentence, to find a weak spot, from which his organization was able to bring in a helicopter to rescue him out.
- Using drones to target individuals or property – In recent times, criminal organizations have escalated their activities by employing weaponized drones for assassinations. As these criminals have sought refuge on upper floors of large residential buildings, their adversaries have also adapted their tactics, incorporating drones as tools to harm them while remaining unidentified.
Rogue Drones: A True Prison Plague
The emergence of rogue drones has become a significant concern within prison facilities, posing unique challenges for security personnel. Criminals exploit these unauthorized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver contraband into correctional facilities, bypassing traditional security measures. Incidents of rogue drone contraband deliveries in prisons include:
- Unmanned Drones delivering drugs to inmates, fueling substance abuse within the prison environment.
- Transporting weapons, including blades, guns or other dangerous objects, to potentially arm inmates and incite violence.
- Delivery of unauthorized communication devices, such as cell phones, enabling inmates to maintain illicit contacts and coordinate illegal activities.
- Drones smuggling money to prisons, facilitating illegal financial transactions within correctional facilities.
- Use of drones to transport tobacco products, leading to black market distribution and potential profit for inmates.
- Surveillance drones deployed around prisons for unauthorized monitoring and gathering of intelligence, compromising security protocols and inmate privacy.
Drone Attacks Against or Hindering Law Enforcement
Another challenge born with the proliferation of UAV’s, are drone attacks against law enforcement agencies, which puts in danger maintaining public safety and order. Criminals have exploited unmanned drones to target or obstruct law enforcement operations, endangering the lives of officers and preventing them from effectively carrying out their duties. These incidents have highlighted the need for law enforcement agencies to adapt and develop strategies to counter these drone threats.
Examples of UAV attacks endangering law enforcement agencies include:
- Drones used to disrupt critical police operations, such as surveilling ongoing investigations or creating distractions during high-risk situations, impeding officers’ ability to respond effectively.
- Deliberate targeting of law enforcement personnel with weaponized drones, posing direct threats to officers’ safety and potentially causing injuries or fatalities.
- Drones employed to gather intelligence on law enforcement tactics and operations, enabling criminals to plan and execute crimes with advanced knowledge of police activities. For instance, a drone has recently flown over the MI6 building in London, which gave power to the UK Police, that can now crack down on people flying drones irresponsibly or illegally, with dedicated teams on the lookout for those breaking the rules.
UAS/Drone Attacks At Critical Facilities & Infrastructure
The accessibility, maneuverability and the ability to remain anonymous using drones make them attractive tools for those seeking to disrupt or cause damage to Strategic locations. These attacks highlight the vulnerabilities that exist within critical facilities and the need for robust countermeasures to protect them from potential drone threats.
Examples of drone attacks at critical facilities and infrastructure include:
- Targeting power plants or electrical grids with weaponized drones, aiming to cause widespread power outages and disrupt essential services.
- Flying drones/UAS near airports and interfering with flight operations, posing risks to aviation safety and causing disruptions in air traffic, as happens frequently near Gatwick airport (UK).
- Using drones to conduct unauthorized surveillance on sensitive government buildings or high-security installations, such as the Nuclear Plants in Sweden, France, The US, compromising security protocols and potentially facilitating future attacks.
Drone/UAS Attacks at Borders against Border Police
Criminal organizations and individuals exploit drones to disrupt border control operations, evade detection, and potentially aid in illegal activities such as smuggling or human trafficking. These attacks highlight the need for enhanced border surveillance and counter-drone measures to protect border areas and support the efforts of border police.
Examples of drone attacks at borders against border police include:
- Drones used to smuggle contraband across borderlines, bypassing traditional security measures and compromising border control efforts. For instance, a drug carrying drone has crashed near the US border, in a failed attempt to get those across the Mexico-US border.
- Deliberate interference with border patrol operations by flying drones in restricted airspace, creating distractions, and impeding law enforcement responses. For instance, in a recent event, “a helicopter operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, was reportedly buzzed by a “high powered” drone that followed it up to a high altitude. Multiple law enforcement agencies also attempted to follow the drone to the point that they could identify its operator, but were unsuccessful.”
- Employing drones for reconnaissance purposes to gather intelligence on border patrol activities, enabling criminals to exploit vulnerabilities and evade capture.
Every technological advancement has its positive and negative aspects. For example, social media platforms have connected people globally, facilitating communication and information sharing, but they have also raised concerns about privacy, mental health, and the spread of misinformation. Similarly, autonomous vehicles hold the potential to enhance road safety and improve transportation efficiency, but their development also raises ethical questions regarding liability, job displacement, and the need for regulatory frameworks.
The proliferation of UAV drones is no exception. As we’ve seen in various examples, drones and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) have brought and will bring in the future significant benefits and advancements to numerous industries, revolutionizing fields such as aerial photography, surveying, logistics and delivery. However, alongside these positive applications, there is a darker side to drone technology that has emerged. Criminal organizations and individuals have seized upon the versatility and accessibility of drones to carry out illicit activities.
It is essential that we recognize the dual nature of drone technology and work towards effective regulation, enforcement, and countermeasures to harness its benefits while mitigating its negative impacts on society.
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By utilizing this advanced tech solution in responsible hands, we can cultivate and drive a safer and more efficient drone ecosystem. This solution, with its robust capabilities and effective controls, will help promote responsible drone usage, enhance safety measures, and ensure the positive impact of drones on the global economy.
The most common cause of UAS/Drone incidents is human error, such as problems with the piloting of the UAV or wrong judgment, followed by technical failures in the drone’s components, such as communication or navigation systems.
A drone attack is the deliberate use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for aggressive purposes, including targeted strikes. These attacks involve drones equipped with cameras, sensors, or weapons, aimed at individuals, locations, infrastructure, or military targets. Perpetrators can be state or non-state actors, posing security and safety challenges with potential harm to lives and property.
One of the most famous drone strikes is the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian military official, by a United States drone strike in January 2020.
Drones present several challenges and problems due to their availability and potential for misuse. Privacy concerns arise from drones equipped with cameras invading personal privacy without consent. Safety risks emerge when drones operate in restricted airspace or near airports, posing a collision threat to manned aircraft. Drones can also be exploited for illegal activities, including smuggling and unauthorized surveillance.