Dark Drones, an Emerging Threat

Jen Colton | Oct 25th, 2018


It was 3:00 a.m. nearly four years ago that a secret service agent noticed a lone bird flying in suspicious loops over the White House. The bird then took a nosedive and crashed. It turns out the bird was a drone flown by an off-duty serviceman who lost control of the device.

This incident rattled National security: How could a drone go undetected by advanced security systems and get that close to the President before it was spotted by an agent?

In 2015 The New York Times reportedthat unmanned aircraft and drones were beginning to raise flags with Homeland Security and the FBI.

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Since then the rate of careless, clueless and criminal drone incidents has skyrocketed. Drones have been:

  • Smuggling drugs into prisons and across borders
  • Interfering with:
  • Spying
    • Espionage and theft of intellectual property
    • Surveillance for physical theft
  • Assassination attempts of presidents of foreign countries
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Off-the-Shelf Drone to Guided Missile

As with most technologies, criminals and terrorists have figured out a way to turn an off-the-shelf enthusiast drone into a guided missile. By attaching explosive or chemical payloads the hobbyist drone becomes a weapon of mass destruction.

Creating a Dark Drone

In less than 5 minutes (we have a drone expert that did it in 130 seconds) an average handy person can turn off the RF signals for both the remote and the drone, converting the off-the-shelf drone into a weapon that can only be tracked by a sophisticated radar system.

Since this kind of threat is still emergent, few public venues are equipped to detect or defend against a drone threat. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed in a TIME magazine story: “It’s only a matter of time before the threat manifests in a violent way.”

What makes this even more scary is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to apprehend the culprit because there  is no way to locate or isolate a remote control signal, because there isn’t any.

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Mitigating the Dark Drone Threat

On a recent summer day a team of Fortem technologists and drone pilots visited a renowned national sports stadium to put their dark drone detection and mitigation technology to the test. Where RF and optic based solutions totally failed to locate and track a series of dark drones flying around the stadium, Fortem TrueView® radar nailed the exact location of each one and sent up a Fortem DroneHunter® to capture and retrieve them.

Dark drones are gaining attention as one of the emerging security threats in the airspace, but with the right sensors in place to detect their presence, we can preempt security and privacy threats and defeat these malicious drones.

Jennifer Colton Headshot

Jen Colton is an executive-level communications strategist and adviser who has helped numerous companies and individuals elevate their story and amplify their brand. She has steered companies through crisis communications, framed compelling executive and entrepreneur leadership stories and distilled complex corporate business challenges for a broad spectrum of audiences. At Fortem Jen oversees public relations and executive communications.