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Mary-Lou Smulders, Dedrone: “something as easy and small as Raspberry Pi could hijack an entire network”

The burgeoning use of drones has made airspace security a higher priority.

When it comes to discussing cybersecurity, we usually limit its necessity for the companies that are part of the governmental sector. Yet, we rarely consider how crucial it is to ensure security no matter what kind of lives we lead.

And adding a VPN connection to our everyday life is only a minor step that we should pay attention to. In addition to that, there are dozen of other security measures that need to be implemented to be completely cyber-secure.

To discuss these measures, Cybernews reached out to Mary-Lou Smulders, the Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, a company that works on building airspace security solutions.

How did Dedrone come about? What has the journey been like since your launch in 2014?

In 2013 during a political speech, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel watched how an unknown and unexpected drone landed in front of her. It was quickly carried off, and a rival political party took responsibility for the stunt. In the end, it was a benign event but anyone with an imagination could see how it might have turned out much differently. That was the start of Dedrone – recognizing that in a world where drones were becoming more pervasive, we needed a framework to make sure the drone economy could “take-off” without compromising safety.

In just the last 2 to 3 years, we’ve seen an acceleration of the use of drones for more nefarious purposes. Drones have been used in warfare, to shut down airports, to cause mayhem and chaos at public events and last year the US government confirmed the first known drone-based terrorist attack on U.S. soil; this was in Pennsylvania. Drone-based cyber attacks are just as easy to execute. Landing a drone on the roof of a building, or having it hover near a window, can wreak havoc by mimicking the network or a local printer— without anyone ever seeing anything.

The burgeoning use of drones has made airspace security a higher priority and Dedrone has worked to deliver security solutions to keep pace with drones’ emerging technical capabilities. Today, Dedrone has customers in 35 countries around the world, partnering with four of the G-7 nation governments, more than 30 government agencies and 70 critical infrastructure sites, 20+ international airports in seven countries, and over 50 correctional facilities worldwide.

Can you introduce us to your Counter-Drone Technology platform? What methods do you use to mitigate drone threats?

At Dedrone, our focus has always been on evolving the industry from being the sole “counter-drone” to focusing on airspace security. Not all drones are bad—in fact, the vast majority offer real value to our lives. Whether by providing entertainment, making deliveries, or even giving us valuable insights during a natural disaster, drones are faster, easier and more climate-friendly than traditional methods - a phenomenal technology.

Without the proper protection to keep the drone economy humming and society safe, we run the risk of what Saudi Arabia did - simply banning all drones because maintaining secure airspace was too challenging. Our focus at Dedrone is to provide sophisticated, powerful technology that delivers necessary information quickly and easily to keep airspace protected.

Our solution provides an all-in-one, flexible cloud-based or on-prem/air-gapped solution for airspace security, comprised of sensors, software including AI/ML-based verification capabilities, mitigation functionality, and advanced analytics. We mitigate drones via jamming and GNSS blocking, which causes the drone to either set itself down gently, return home or become disoriented. Jamming is reliable, applicable to swarm situations, and super easy to implement via our technology.

Dedrone is the only platform that can quickly detect, identify and locate the largest variety of commercial, consumer, and homemade drones from over 65 manufacturers including over 200 individual drone models and homemade versions as well.

What drone threats do you find the most concerning nowadays?

From a cybersecurity perspective, network spoofing and mimicking are a real concern. By using something as easy and small as a Raspberry Pi, someone could compromise an entire network or mimic a printer, compromising valuable information.

Physically speaking, the potential for drones to do catastrophic damage is very real. We’re fortunate that it has not yet happened here in the US, but the potential is there and we can be doing more to protect our airspace.

How did the recent global events affect the physical security landscape? Have you noticed any new security issues arise as a result?

The bigger impact on security from threats in the air is the rapid advancement of drone technology over the last 3-4 years. Drones have dramatically increased in range, speed, payload, and ease of use, while also becoming cheaper to buy making them both incredibly powerful and easily accessible.

This significantly impacts not just our physical airspace, but cyber security as well. Anyone can buy a drone from Amazon or Walmart, equip it with spoofing capabilities or a Raspberry Pi, and the sky’s (quite literally) the limit for what damage it can do.

In your opinion, which industries should be especially concerned about drone threats?

It’s different depending on whether you consider physical or cyber threats. In the physical world, critical infrastructure—including airports—are the obvious targets. In the cyber world, you have to think about protecting IP. Corporate espionage is a big concern, especially considering how easy it would be for a drone to land on the roof of a building or hover near a window.

What predictions do you have for the future of drone technology?

First, drone technology will continue to get cheaper and it will get easier to fly drones, deliver bigger payloads, to travel for longer distances and at faster speeds. We will continue to see these improvements for some time to come.

Second, and this is one I hope I’m wrong about, but if past behavior is indicative of future behavior, it may take a major event before companies and individuals alike gain a healthy respect for the risk that nefarious drones present. It wasn’t until the drone incident happened at Gatwick airport that Britain took notice, but they now have some of the most protected airports in the world. I would love for the US to make those same decisions without an incident, but it may take something happening before people are ready to invest in robust airspace security.

In this age of ever-evolving technology, what do you think are the key security measures everyone should implement on their devices?

Just like a dentist tells us to brush and floss daily to ensure the best oral hygiene, device security is about doing those small, basic tasks. Most individuals who take the time to use a VPN when they are away from their home Wi-Fi, use the strong password management available through their device, and are careful about the kinds of emails they open, will be fine.

Share with us, what’s next for Dedrone?

We feel the momentum that is driving the drone marketplace. In the beginning, “perimeter protection” was a two-dimensional and physical challenge. In recent decades, this same perimeter protection included protecting our cyber gateways that nefarious players are continuously trying to penetrate.

Today and soon, the next layer of perimeter protection will be added: the airspace. As people embrace more and more of the positive benefits that drones bring to humanity, perimeter protection is going three-dimensional. These same entities will need to protect their airspace. As the most prolific installed airspace security in the world today, Dedrone is well-positioned to lead the future. When people think about protecting their piece of the sky, they will think of Dedrone.

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