Drone Crime: Yes, It’s a Real Thing

It wasn’t too long ago that drones were nothing more than playthings for tech enthusiasts and innovative tools for aerial photographers, but today they have taken on a darker and more sinister role in our society. Twenty-five year old Jorge Edwin Rivera knows all about the darker side of drones; he was going to be paid $1,000 to pilot a drone from one side of the US-Mexico border to the other. The catch? The drone had company: a lunchbox filled with 13 pounds of methamphetamine that an accomplice planned to retrieve after Rivera landed the drone.

Rivera is hardly the first criminal to attempt to capitalize on the fact that drones are simply to fly, difficult to detect, and incredibly practical for a variety of purposes. Today, criminals rely on drones to do everything from snooping and smuggling to actively outmaneuvering police actions. In the words of U.S District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, “Use of drones appears to be on the horizon. The court needs to be clear that these cases present considerable danger to our community.”

Of course, the United States is hardly the only country coping with UAV technology being utilized for immoral purposes. In the United Kingdom, the number of drone incident reports increased threefold between 2015 and 2016. A photographer managed to highlight just how vulnerable the world is to drone-flyers with malicious intentions when he flew his camera drone down aboard Britain’s largest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. As he told the BBC, “I would say my mistake should open their eyes to a glaring gap in security. This was a bit of tomfoolery but it could have been something terrible.”

Criminals in Australia have also been misusing drones in their drug trades, but not to mule the drugs ashore as you might expect. Instead, criminal rings have been caught using drones to counter-surveil the police who monitor them, like one drug ring attempting smuggle $30 million worth of cocaine into the country.   

The good news in all of this is that law enforcement agencies are keeping up with technology as well. Just as the drone industry has enjoyed steady growth, the anti-drone industry is now worth upwards of $1 billion.  The Department of Defense’s Navy Special Warfare Command just signed a $1.5 million contract with SkySafe to develop a vehicle-mounted radio frequency jammer to disable “enemy drones” before they can do harm. Boeing even developed a Compact Laser Weapons System back in 2015 that can burn through a drone in mere seconds.

Stay tuned for this new type of arms race, and just be careful when you go to fly your own drone in your backyard!

Is Your Phone’s Fingerprint Scanner Really Secure?

On the surface, a fingerprint sensor is everything a smartphone user could ever hope to have. Just one touch of a finger makes it possible to unlock anything and everything of value, from online banking to Amazon Prime. It also doesn’t hurt that you feel like you’re living in a Charlie’s Angels movie as you use such futuristic technology. Best of all, that magical fingerprint sensor means you can finally stop trying (unsuccessfully, if you’re like most of us) to remember dozens of passwords, some with special characters, some with capital letters, and some so random that they’re hopelessly lost somewhere within the recesses of your mind.

Smartphone Fingerprint Security: Foolproof or Tomfoolery? 

If you’ve been celebrating your smartphone’s fingerprint sensor as your ultimate liberation from password hell, you may not want to start throwing the confetti just yet. It turns out that this admittedly convenient technological innovation also poses a gaping lapse in security. According to research at New York University and Michigan State University, smartphones can be easily fooled by fake fingerprints. Conniving thieves can actually compose digital fingerprints with many features commonly found in human prints.

You may not want to believe it, but the researchers proved it with their own experiment. They created an artificial set of “MasterPrints” using a computer simulation. Those MasterPrints could match real prints similar to those used by phones up to 65 percent of the time! This problem stems from the fact that the finger scanners on phones are so small that they only read a partial fingerprint. This theoretically would allow hackers and criminals to easily falsify prints since they are not required to match the print of an entire finger.

The Science of Fingerprint Scanners

Think about it this way: If you’ve ever set up fingerprint security on your iPhone or Android, your phone most likely took about 8 to 10 images of your finger. This makes it easier for your phone to match your finger if you apply it to unlock in different positions. You may even have recorded multiple fingers. However, since you- or the thief trying to break into your phone- only need to match one of the multiple images stored as a fingerprint, the system is vulnerable to false matches. It’s no different than if you set up 15 passwords for the same account and an attacker only needed to match one password to gain access.

If you’re feeling disappointed, hope is on the horizon. Smartphone manufacturers and others who use fingerprint security systems are rapidly researching anti-spoofing technologies that would allow users to maintain the convenience of the fingerprint sensor without losing security in the process. Some hope to help the phone detect the presence of a real finger by looking for perspiration or examining patterns in deeper layers of skin. Others want to use ultrasound technology to ensure precision.

Technology never fails to evolve at lightning speed, so by this time next year, who knows, your fingerprint might be the most secure feature on your phone!