Just about everyone has heard about the use of pilotless aircraft (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs) by the US and its allies to carry out surveillance and other missions. An article in the “Threat Level” blog at Wired reports on a presentation at the recent Black Hat Security Conference in Las Vegas, in which two researchers, Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins, constructed their own UAV to act as a personal spy drone. Their WASP [Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform] aircraft was equipped to sniff WiFi signals, to act as a cell phone tower to intercept phone calls, and to perform miscellaneous hacking tasks.
At a cost of about $6,000, the two converted a surplus FMQ-117B U.S. Army target drone into their personal remote-controlled spy plane, complete with Wi-Fi and hacking tools, such as an IMSI catcher and antenna to spoof a GSM cell tower and intercept calls. It also had a network-sniffing tool and a dictionary of 340 million words for brute-forcing network passwords.
The WASP, which is 6 feet long and weighs 14 pounds, requires remote control for takeoff and landing, but can be programmed to follow a predetermined flight path based on GPS coordinates and Google Maps. It can fly entirely legally at altitudes less than 400 feet, where it would be reasonably unobtrusive, given its low noise level and small size.
As Tassey and Perkins pointed out, they are probably not the only ones capable of thinking of this idea and implementing it.
The two security researchers created the spy plane as a proof of concept to show what criminals, terrorists and others might also soon be using for their nefarious activities.
An aircraft like the WASP could be used for a variety of unsavory purposes, including industrial espionage, communications jamming, or smuggling. But the technology has potential beneficial uses, too. It might be used, for example, to make more thorough searches for lost hikers economically feasible. In any case, the technology cannot be uninvented; people need to be aware of its potential for both good and bad uses.
The New Scientist also has an article on this research.