Landing Enemy Drones Safely: Here Comes the Technology


By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – It’s always impressive to see a drone take flight. But what may be even more impressive, according to a recent report in Silicon Beat, is the ability to safely land a hostile drone before it is able to do any damage. One device, unveiled in October 2016 at the PacSec 2016 security conference in Tokyo, successfully managed this feat, but it wasn’t a frequency jammer: instead, it used a radio transmitter to take over complete control of the drone in midflight, ensuring that the original operator couldn’t steer, accelerate or land the drone. Robi Sen, the founder of Department 13, was quoted in the Silicon Beat article on how some companies were starting to create “geofences,” which are digitally created walls to stop drones from flying over their property and possibly stealing proprietary information in the process.

“I share my colleague Robi’s enthusiasm about the potential applications of geofences,” says Jonathan Hunter, CEO of Department 13. “The threat posed by drones to companies and their trade secrets is very real. Our company is creating software that will allow a company to remotely redirect an unwanted drone by setting up a secure perimeter around its campus that says, in effect, ‘Don’t come in.’”

There are several challenges linked to defending targets from hostile drones. Jamming the radio signal controlling the drone is generally illegal in the U.S. and interferes with other communications and electronics. Attempting to shoot down the drone during flight presents its own dangers—for example, it could simple detonate an onboard explosive or release contraband payload into the wrong hands anyway. And such measures can be ineffective against a swarm of drones.

To address these challenges, Department 13 is developing MESMER™, an open software platform for the identification, tracking, and mitigation of a variety of radio-controlled devices including drones. MESMER’s mitigation approach, called protocol manipulation, allows the system to take control of one or many drones to stop them, safely land them, redirect them, or take total control of their flight. MESMER’s abilities have already been successfully demonstrated to U.S. government agencies and the intelligence community; it was one of eight finalists in the August 2016 MITRE Challenge and also featured in the U.S. Department of Defense’s September 2016 Black Dart Challenge.

MESMER can often capture and decode raw drone telemetry data: this provides not only the location of the drone but potentially reveals information about the drone’s base station or controller. In some cases, MESMER can even obtain video, accelerometer, magnetometer and other onboard system data.

The MESMER platform offers significant benefits over standard electronic mitigation approaches; for example, it does not attempt to overpower signals in the way that jammers do, and it is inherently low-power so that it has no inference with existing electronic signals in the vicinity. It is versatile as well: MESMER provides proactive security measures that can allow prison authorities to enforce perimeters to prevent the use of drones to deliver contraband; it can be integrated with military defense systems on land or sea to allow security of military forces and interdict enemy drones; and it can deter threats posed by drones at public events such as sports, concerts, malls or high-population areas.

“The increasing awareness among organizations of the risk posed by drone activity is fueling the growth of the drone security sector and we are proud to be working on the cutting edge of this field,” adds Hunter.

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