Hack-Proof Drones? This Could Make It Happen

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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  • Glad to hear it will be open source. The transparency open source provides will help ensure it stays secure.
  • Sounds an awful lot like an evolution of SELinux. Even the name is similar.
  • 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.