Invisible to radar, a drone flies over a city, while a hacker uses it to attack the cellphone network, spy on the ground and monitor Wi-Fi networks. But this is no stolen military vehicle. It is a home-made drone built for just a few thousand dollars using parts legally bought on the internet.
This is the future of network hacking, as envisioned by security consultants Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins. They have now built such a drone to prove how easy it is.
Using commercially available parts, they built a plane called WASP that can be a moving base station for cellphone networks, a flying camera and a Wi-Fi “packet sniffer” – all at the same time. Everything was bought legally and building it did not require much engineering know-how, they say.
The drone’s frame was bought for less than $300 on the internet. A GSM radio turned it into a mobile version of a cellphone tower, a video camera monitored the ground, while internet connectivity came from a USB dongle that can be bought in any electronics shop. The total cost of their drone was about $3800, says Tassey. The pair presented their work at the Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas last week.
Using the drone to attack a cellphone network would be as easy as flying while broadcasting the same signal as an ordinary cell tower, the pair say. Most cellphones are designed to latch on to the strongest available signal. If the local 3G or 4G network has a weaker signal than the one broadcast by the drone then the handset will default to GSM and can be tricked into latching onto the drone’s antenna, using it as a base station.
In tests, Tassey and Perkins showed that the drone could then listen in, record phone calls and transmit the data over the internet.
But it’s not all bad news. The pair say that a drone could run search patterns for lost hikers at a fraction of the cost of using a helicopter, for example.
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