9788180259?profile=RESIZE_400xWith the ability to largely secure critical infrastructure from ground level attacks and a current strong focus on cybersecurity, a potential new attack vector from the air is being presented with the wide availability of citizen drones.

Originally reported through Popular Mechanics[1] who obtained reports in a 28 October 2021 US government bulletin, media describes a crashed drone found on the roof of a building next to a Pennsylvania substation in July 2020.  Experts believe the drone was likely targeting the area energy infrastructure.

The drone, a popular and relatively inexpensive DJI Mavic 2, had attached to it a thick copper wire via nylon cords. The camera and memory card had been removed and other efforts had been undertaken to conceal its origin or ownership.  This incident highlights the mounting risk posed by small drones, as well as the low threshold of entry to attempt electric grid drone attacks, as the DJI Mavic 2 can be found online from between $2,000 and $4,000.  The easy access of this technology makes it available to groups like terrorists and drug cartels, both of which are already utilizing commercial drones in targeted attacks.  The incident also plays into existing security concerns surrounding criminal uses of widely available commercial drones: including providing contraband to prison inmates, smuggling, and more.[2]

“This is the first known instance of a modified UAS [unmanned aerial system] likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure,” the bulletin is quoted as stating.  We (the US government) assess that a UAS recovered near an electrical substation was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location.”  The substation is not identified, and the assessment is stated to be based in part on other unspecified incidents involving drones dating back to 2017.

Many countries have restricted zones for flying drones such as around airports and other national infrastructure and some require registration and licensing.  However, with the ease of launching drones, policing flights is challenging.  This frightening reality has been recently demonstrated at the UK’s London Heathrow Airport with frequent police reports of drones being seen in proximity of incoming aircraft.

Given the number and extent of the energy infrastructure, not to mention others such as water, monitoring is even more challenging, but it is nevertheless an issue that needs attention.

Red Sky Alliance is a Cyber Threat Analysis and Intelligence Service organization. For questions, comments or assistance, please contact the office directly at 1-844-492-7225, or feedback@wapacklabs.com

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[1] https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a38191216/drone-attack-targeted-us-electrical-grid-for-the-first-time/

[2] https://dronelife.com/2021/11/08/drone-attack-on-u-s-power-grid-failed-this-time/