US: The Government Accountability Office has warned the Congress that its push for drones to become commonplace in US airspace fails to take into account concerns surrounding privacy, security and even GPS jamming and spoofing.
Drones, known in the report as “unmanned aerial systems,” are currently limited in the United States to law enforcement activities, search and rescue, forensic photography, monitoring or fighting forest fires, border security, weather research, and, among other things, scientific data collection and for hobby.
But there’s a concerted push to expand the commercial use of drones for pipeline, utility, and farm fence inspections; vehicular traffic monitoring; real-estate and construction-site photography; relaying telecommunication signals; fishery protection and monitoring; and crop dusting, according to the report, which was distributed to lawmakers earlier this month.
The report also urged the Transportation Security Administration to come up with a plan to secure operation centers for unmanned drones, recommended the government formulate privacy protections to head off “abuses” and also pointed out safety concerns that need to be addressed regarding GPS spoofing and jamming.
In a GPS jamming scenario, the UAS could potentially lose its ability to determine its location, altitude, and the direction in which it is traveling. Low-cost devices that jam GPS signals are prevalent. This problem can be mitigated by having a second or redundant navigation system onboard the UAS that is not reliant on GPS, which is the case with larger UAS typically operated by DOD and DHS.
The reported noted that “GPS jamming can be mitigated for small UAS by encrypting its communications, but the costs and weight associated with encryption may make it infeasible.”
What’s more, unencrypted non-military GPS signals are “vulnerable to being counterfeited, or spoofed.”
In a GPS-spoofing scenario, the GPS signal going from the ground control station to the UAS is “first counterfeited and then overpowered,” the report said. “Once the authentic (original) GPS signal is overpowered, the UAS is under the control of the ‘spoofer.’ This type of scenario was recently demonstrated by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin at the behest of DHS.”