Rise of the Drones: “The race is still on between access to the air and how to manage it.”


Air & Space: What led to your research on the criminal use of drones?

Dunn:

One of my longstanding academic research interests is the relationship between technological change and the vulnerabilities it creates. Phone cameras, fast processors, compact batteries, and live-streaming have given birth to a technology that gives a bird’s-eye view of the world, but the same technology can also violate the security provided by walls and fences. Criminals and terrorists have also spotted these opportunities—and drone use for criminal and malign purposes has followed.

What are some of the ways in which drones could be used for illegal activities?

Drone-mounted cameras allow reconnaissance of homes and shops from behind security fences: to see if lights are on, windows are shut, and doors are secure. Burglars then choose the most vulnerable target. Drones have also been used in ports to [smuggle] containers of illicit goods: When security patrols approach their container, another drone has been used to create a diversion.

Their most common criminal use, however, has been to deliver contraband (drugs, phones, SIM cards) to prison windows and over prison exercise-yard walls. Delivering weapons to prisoners is also theoretically possible, as is the arming of drones with firearms and explosives. YouTube is awash with individuals who have armed drones and demonstrated their effect as weapons platforms.

Drone use has proliferated among hobbyists. Does the technology exist to monitor civilian drone use in a way that’s practical?

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