The Emerging Threat of Weaponized Drones

Drones are becoming increasingly more powerful, with greater autonomy, range and payload capacity. We are reminded how dangerous drones can be, when used for malicious intent, following the tragic death of two maritime security operatives during the strike on Liberian-flagged Mercer Street this August.

Both commercial vessels and the superyacht community are facing an ever- growing threat from drones on privacy, safety and security. At sea, even a simple commercial drone can cause catastrophic damage which is why there is a need for detective, protective and preventive countermeasures.

The usage of drones is rising due to their ability to offer live-stream, real-time video and image capture as well as goods transportation capability. Drones are often used over helicopters because of the cost advantages. Law enforcement, border control, surveillance teams and search and rescue are now relying on them. However, the media are leveraging drones to achieve more malicious objectives. And even more worrying, terrorists and criminals are exploiting drones for malevolent intentions.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

Even hobby drones can carry small ‘Raspberry Pi’ computers programmed specifically to locate Wi-Fi signals. They have been used by white hat researchers to test the security of remote critical infrastructure establishments – such as power stations – that cannot be accessed directly via the internet. They are also used legitimately by penetration testers – who conduct controlled attack simulations – in similar circumstances. If researchers are doing this, you can guarantee that hackers are doing the same. When considering superyachts and the high-profile clientele on-board, these pose a viable threat to both privacy and as a viable means to locate and track vessels. Paparazzi using drones is already a recognized and growing problem, even in port. Crew are often not trained to deal with such situations.

Physical safety

Perhaps the greater concern, however, is the growing trend in targeted attacks onboard commercial shipping and high value economic targets. Yemeni Houthi rebel-backed drone attacks on both oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia and commercial shipping vessels have become increasingly commonplace. This newly adopted strategy of targeting high value targets, poses security questions for the maritime industry.

Drone assassination attempts and the targeting of high-profile public figures has been increasingly reported across the globe. Suspected Cartel members in Mexico have used drones to drop explosives on police and transport illicit narcotics. Attempt to assassinate high profile political figures have been reported.

The danger of readily available, cheap, and effective drones being modified into weapons is clear.

As drone capability expands over the next few years, authorities and law enforcement will need to adapt to the threats they pose. The biggest single problem is that drones are not sufficiently regulated. No single agency has yet claimed overall authority to deliver the regulation necessary to prevent drones from becoming a serious threat within society.

Priavo Security and the 360 Maritime Security Alliance provide electronic security solutions, including drone defensive systems, for yachts to protect clients and their vessels against emerging and existing threats. Using some of the most advanced systems in the world we ensure captains, crew and owners can maintain situational awareness, detect inbound threats and, if necessary, respond with the appropriate force for protection.

For more information email or call +44 (0) 20 7315 4221.