Drones being hacked and can reach new heights

Turbo-charging drones has become something of an everyday occurrence, not only due to a vast number of drone hackers found today, but also due to design blunders that drone manufacturers keep on making.

One such occurrence has turned a simple oversight into a real playground for drone hacking, enabling hackers to do what they do best: remove restrictions that modify the main performances of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Leaving development debug code in Assistant 2 app, one of the leading drone manufacturers DJI Technology allowed hackers to rem-out a line in the file and set the debug flag to true.

This, in turn, allowed all drone users to efficiently turn off all safeguards, including height limitations and no-fly zone restrictions. 

This oversight has been noticed not only by the hackers but by the drone users who have started uniting in one goal: to remove their drone limitations so that they would enhance their performance.  

The wish to get their drones super-charged came as a result of a backlash at numerous limitations that DJI Technology company imposed upon their drone users, some of them being a no-fly zone and having to connect to their servers via internet in order to fly a UAV.

Drone hacking by Drone Enthusiasts

The practice of hacking drones has become so popular that there are now numerous groups of drone fans and enthusiasts supporting the idea of drone hacking in order to change performance parameters of their unmanned aerial vehicles.

What’s more, drone hacking has become so mainstream that a number of YouTube channels provide a detailed description of how to actually hack a drone in a fast and easy manner. 

The trend has spread so much that competitions among drone fans are often held on who can push their drone's performance the furthest.

As a result, there are now many drones flying miles away from their owners and higher than even before, breaching numerous laws at the same time.

For comparison purposes, the European Union law about the height and distance states that 500m distance from the drone owner and 120 meters above the ground is the limit, but the internet is filled with photos and videos depicting drones flying much higher and further than the given restrictions.

DJI’s response to the vast number of drone hacking attempts

DJI Technology company had been warned by its users of the oversight many times prior to finding a solution, which came in the form of a new update that stops any unauthorized firmware modifications. 

Inspire 2, Spark, Mavic Pro, Phantom 3 SE, Phantom 4 Advance and Phantom 4 Pro have all had software updates and are said to have fixed the issue with the debug code.

Furthermore, the main idea behind geofencing (no-fly zone restrictions being one of its features) is to provide sufficient information about where flying a drone might pose a serious risk to the surrounding area and as such should not be tempered with, as Victor Wang, DJI Technology security director tried to point out once again.

Tempering with geofencing does not only endanger certain airspace but it also causes unstable flight behavior, making a drone unsafe to operate, thus posing a potential danger not only to airspace but to the drone operator and the people found in the flight area as well.

DJI Technology Company does not take any responsibility when it comes to modified drones and condemns any activity that causes unauthorized modifications of their drones, Victor Wang specified once more. 

Unlocking the no-fly zone restrictions

Nofly zone restrictions via software has been a key limitation that drone owners complained about, which resulted in DJI Technology’s solution, to allow the no-fly zone limit to be unlocked for authorized users. Thanks to its software development kit (SDK), drone owners can now easily create customized software using its platform. 

Alternatively, they can unlock geofencing by sending an email to the company requesting the authorization.

However, it seems that the SDK and authorization process have not been such a success as DJI Technology company has hoped for.

A vast number of unmanned aerial vehicle owners have reported that the process and SDK are, in fact, ineffective, as they do not remove no-fly zone restrictions. 

This is the main reason why drone owners have resorted to hacking the software on their drones as a way to turn off no-fly zone limitations.

At least that is the reason that most of the drone hackers give when asked why it is that they keep risking their safety as well as the safety of everyone around them.

Whether drone hacking is as dangerous as DJI Technology Company portraits it to be is yet to be seen, but what we now so far is that drone hacking for enhancing its performance parameters is certainly here to stay for a long, long time.