US Needs Updated Drone Security Solutions

Originally published in American Security Today. View the full edition here: https://www.joomag.com/magazine/ast-digital-magazine-april-2017-april-2017/0734891001491062679?short

Commercial and hobby drones have exploded in popularity. During the 2015 holiday season alone, as many as 1 million drones were sold. This proliferation of private drones has created an entirely new security risk to which businesses and governments must adapt and respond. To date, just 500,000 drones have been registered with the FAA. This leaves a lot of unknown entities operating small, difficult-to-detect drones around the skies all over the country. Indeed, rogue groups such as ISIS have begun using drones to carry explosives in targeted attacks. Using this same method, terrorists could target the nation’s  power grid or other high profile locations to create terror and panic.

With over 55,000 substations in operation in the United States, there is a vast amount of sensitive and expensive equipment to protect from the threat posed by drones.  In recent years, Increased standards from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation have begun to require stronger security measures, but not every substation has been able to comply as quickly as hoped.

Security professionals are working furiously to address the gaps in drone defense. Currently, the most common technologies in use for drone detection are video, acoustic sensors, radio, and radar. Each of these has advantages, but they also have flaws that make it difficult to detect drones in all conditions. Both optical and thermal cameras, as well as acoustic sensors, will not operate under severe weather conditions. And while radio and radar can cover a wide area of detection, they suffer from high installation costs and technical challenges.

Compact Surveillance Radar (CSR) is a new technology developed to address some of these gaps in detection. CSR, like traditional radar, has the benefit of being able to detect and track foreign objects in all weather conditions, but at a fraction of the size and cost. The compact size allows the radar to be mounted on existing structures or even trees, providing extensive perimeter defense almost anywhere that you can imagine. Thanks to new algorithms, the CSR can also filter out clutter such as birds, reducing the number of false alarms.

Even with the best technology available, detection is only the start of the battle against drones. Current regulations make it difficult to stop the damage that drones can cause. The FAA has put into place new regulations that limit some uses of drones. But it is still illegal in most cases for even state or local governments to stop or interfere with drones other than to locate the operator and have them land the drone. Unfortunately, by the time the operator can be located, often the damage has already been done. Not to mention that this solution requires round-the-clock human surveillance, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to operating costs of public utilities and other infrastructure points.  One of the most effective counter measures for drones is jamming or GPS spoofing, which unfortunately are strictly off-limits to the private sector, which includes stadiums, convention centers, and other large gathering areas.

Of course, there are reasons not to allow everyone to jam signals at will, but more powerful action on the part of the FAA and other government agencies is needed to ensure the safety of the public. Greater access to automated solutions for drone defense are needed across the board. Many security professionals are also  urging the federal government to enforce no-fly zones over critical infrastructure points such as substations, dams, bridges, etc. Updated security solutions can bring us the updated security we need.

Author Credit:

Logan Harris is the CEO of SpotterRF, providing perimeter protection beyond fences with its patented Compact Surveillance Radar systems.

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