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Hack-Proof Drones? This Could Make It Happen

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 12 comments

Drones are an integral part of modern warfare, which is just one of many reasons why it would be unusually bad if malefactors were able to hack them. (See the recently finished season of 24.) seL4, an ironclad drone programming protocol, is about to go open-source, allowing both governments and enthusiasts to keep their autonomous flying machines secure.

seL4 is an operating system kernel that acts as a go-between for hardware and software in an electronic device. It was developed by the National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and the American defense company General Dynamics C4 Systems. Up until now, the program has only been available to governments and defense companies.

MORE: How to Hack Other People's Drones for Less Than $400

While confirmed drone hacks have only happened in laboratories, seL4 could go a long way to ensuring that they do not happen out in the wild. Researchers have proven mathematically that the kernel has no software bugs (hardware bugs could be a different story). While this does not automatically make drones secure, it does mean that seL4 is a solid basis for keeping drones from being hacked, provided that users build smart security protocols around it.

In practice, seL4 could allow programmers to avoid a costly kill switch. Governments generally program their drones to fall out of the sky if they detect hacking. seL4 keeps functions compartmentalized, and could allow drones to shrug off the hack and remain airborne until their next round of maintenance.

Since hackers are not likely to target consumer drones, enthusiasts may not get too much out of seL4, but they can try it for themselves at 10 p.m. ETD tonight (July 28). The protocol is compatible with a variety of different processors (including the common x86 platform), and even supports a Linux overlay, if that's your scene.

Otherwise, citizens can rest a bit easier with the knowledge that government drones are not likely to turn on their owners anytime soon. Probably.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 1 Hide
    koga73 , July 28, 2014 12:48 PM
    Glad to hear it will be open source. The transparency open source provides will help ensure it stays secure.
  • 1 Hide
    COLGeek , July 28, 2014 1:09 PM
    Sounds an awful lot like an evolution of SELinux. Even the name is similar.
  • 1 Hide
    p75 , July 28, 2014 2:13 PM
    Drones are used to kill people and spy on you. CIA use drones. Drones are bad not good and all drones should be hacked!

    If you see a drone, then shoot it down. They are trying to get public acceptance of these bad things. Please continue to hack these weapons of war and bring them down.
  • Add your comment Display all 12 comments.
  • -2 Hide
    f-14 , July 28, 2014 6:08 PM
    why hack the drone when you can hack and spoof the drones signal or hell just beam your own signal on the same frequency and over power a 3,000 mile away signal with one 30 miles away.

    even better if you have a space program just link one of your spy satellites to your opponents and pull a shockwave. or just emp pulse the drone.
  • -1 Hide
    JonnyDough , July 29, 2014 12:13 AM
    Quote:
    Drones are used to kill people and spy on you. CIA use drones. Drones are bad not good and all drones should be hacked!

    If you see a drone, then shoot it down. They are trying to get public acceptance of these bad things. Please continue to hack these weapons of war and bring them down.



    Asinine. The government works for you, it is comprised of you citizen. I can't quote my source but I know that it is ILLEGAL for us to share information with the CIA, unless we see something illegal. Then, we cannot share certain details. That said, the government is not using MQ-9's to photograph your silly house. The government does not CARE about your stupid house. If you aren't doing anything to hurt others or the environment (like making bombs, setting fires, or stockpiling guns with plans to kill people) then you have nothing to worry about.

    Furthermore, the CIA keeps your stupid arse safe. Maybe you're just too stupid to realize it. If it weren't for government, we'd have anarchy. With anarchy, you have gangs for government - gangs with no civil order at all. They'll kill you for laughing funny. So yes, you need big brother. Unless you think you would be a better leader than all those willing to deal with idiots like you on a daily basis?
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , July 29, 2014 12:14 AM
    Furthermore, "drones" is a term that sensationalist media likes to use to signal fear and make people think these things are out there killing people on their own. That will never happen. It is impossible to distinguish between friend and foe, our own soldiers can barely do it half the time.

    What our military uses are REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT. Not drones. Ignore the media frenzy for once and get educated.
  • -1 Hide
    JonnyDough , July 29, 2014 12:18 AM
    Also, I can't believe the author quoted 24. The show is more sensationalism, the intent of that crappy drama is to draw watchers - not to be accurate. Hijack an RPA? This would never happen. It CANNOT happen. The government is not in the habit of spending billions only to watch our jets get taken over by some third world country with a computer and antennae. LOL We spend more on military tech research than most countries have total INCOME.
  • 0 Hide
    JonnyDough , July 29, 2014 12:20 AM
    One more thing, your neighbor is watching you. If you start firing guns at things flying overhead you're likely to pay a bigger price than being caught on film. Oh, btw...Google has several photos of your house, and the United States Government has had them since the 1960's.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , July 29, 2014 2:11 AM
    The only way to make something unhackable is to keep it in "single-player" mode.
    Anyone who says differently is either not smart enough or lacks the knowledge of how software works.
    As soon as you connect something to any sort of line, its possible to hack it. Possible however does not mean probable, and that's why we use free antivirus and firewalls: To make it hard enough so that noobs dont bother.
  • 0 Hide
    p75 , July 29, 2014 7:29 AM


    Asinine. The government works for you, it is comprised of you citizen. I can't quote my source but I know that it is ILLEGAL for us to share information with the CIA, unless we see something illegal. Then, we cannot share certain details. That said, the government is not using MQ-9's to photograph your silly house. The government does not CARE about your stupid house. If you aren't doing anything to hurt others or the environment (like making bombs, setting fires, or stockpiling guns with plans to kill people) then you have nothing to worry about.

    Furthermore, the CIA keeps your stupid arse safe. Maybe you're just too stupid to realize it. If it weren't for government, we'd have anarchy. With anarchy, you have gangs for government - gangs with no civil order at all. They'll kill you for laughing funny. So yes, you need big brother. Unless you think you would be a better leader than all those willing to deal with idiots like you on a daily basis?[/quote]

    Oh dear me. The CIA, Government does not keep us safe or work for us! CIA protect the rich, corrupt governments and elites. CIA, NSA the government all spy on you and nothing to hide nothing to fear is BS. Hitler used ID cards and he used them to know who was Jewish and who was not. So we all have something to hide. You are just parroting the lies and propaganda you get for your biased CNN and fox news media. It’s all controlled. The public need protecting from the corrupt government not the other way round. The terrorists are the ones in government, CIA. There is a word for people like you, “sheeple” You need to wake op mate. So please carry on shooting these unlawful drones down and they are being used to spy on citizens all around the world.
  • 0 Hide
    xenol , July 29, 2014 8:16 AM
    The comments went down real fast.
  • 0 Hide
    mnd_bg , July 30, 2014 5:02 AM
    Remember that American drone hijacked by the Iranians few years ago. No? Ah.. it didn't make the news for obvious reasons.
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