Geofencing Won’t Prevent Terrorism
While alarming to some, DJI’s paternal interference in its customers’ flight plans probably will reduce unintentional incidents like last week’s White House landing. But it certainly won’t prevent the scenario feared by official Washington: an attacker looking to weaponize a drone. For one thing, hardcore drone hobbyists tend to be tinkerers, and sooner or later their rumbling will translate into published firmware hacks and workarounds anyone can use.
“Right now there doesn’t exist any hacks to remove the #geofencing or downgrade the firmware,” says Herbert. “I’m sure they’re coming. People will figure it out eventually.”
But, he notes, drone fliers who don’t want geofencing have many options. DJI’s mandatory update only affects the Phantom 2 line—ironically, the older Phantom 1 that landed at the White House isn’t included. And Phantom 2 owners will receive the mandatory update only when they link their drone to their Internet-connected PC or Mac. And if you really want to exercise your own judgment when flying, DJI says you can simply buy from a competitor.
“We do provide different layers of security to make it difficult to hack and get around,” says DJI’s Perry. But for those determined to avoid geofencing, “there’s an easy way to do that, which is to buy another quad-copter.”
That may be true for now, but it’s easy to see lawmakers and regulators jumping on DJI’s mandatory update as an easy cure, and mandating geofencing industrywide. When that happens, you can expect that circumventing drone firmware, for any reason, will become illegal, the same way hacking your car’s programming is illegal. One thing is for certain: Nobody willing to strap a bomb to a toy drone will be deterred.