Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
December 19, 2019

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Protecting your airspace with counter-drone technology

Dedrone-counter-drone-19A year on from the Gatwick Airport drone incident, Amit Samani, Regional Sales Manager for Dedrone, explains how counter-drone thinking has come a long way over 2019.

The drone threat is much better understood today than it was a year ago. Since those three costly days at Gatwick Airport, back in December 2018, much has changed. Most notably, the UK Government has expedited the testing, evaluation, and acquisition of counter-drone technologies to prevent such incursions from occurring again.

The chaos playing out across the 24/7 news media, and the realisation that a small drone could cause so much damage, served as a warning to security providers that their airspace is vulnerable to drone interruptions of any kind, whether malicious or not. Drone systems (or Unmanned Arial Systems – UAS) are providing new solutions for many industries, but in the wrong hands, they can cause real damage to both operations and reputations.

Over the last year, a great deal of work has gone into understanding the threat. In December 2019, the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) released its first official counter-drone guidance for security practitioners at national infrastructure sites. This information provides background on the tools that CNI users can integrate to protect higher risk locations from drone threats.

For these organisations, CPNI says it’s vital “that robust preparation and planning is undertaken to assess the risks that UAS pose” and it emphasises the importance of preparing site-specific counter-UAS (C-UAS) strategies, based on full, data-driven risk assessments. Perhaps most significantly, the guidance also gives planners some solid parameters for comparing C-UAS technologies. The CPNI’s Catalogue of Security Equipment includes, for the first time, solutions such as DroneTracker that have been evaluated against its detect, track, and identify test standard.

Across the wider security sector, not just at CPNI sites, it’s now understood that drone incursions need to be mitigated against exactly as any other risk does.

According to the Center for the Study of the Drone, there are over 500 counter-drone technologies on the market. But tread carefully – very few of those have been assessed to any meaningful operational and performance standards, and some of them would certainly not be legal to use.

What exactly are those risks?

At the crux of this issue is the fact that commercial, off-the-shelf drones are easily accessible for criminals to use for physical and cyber-attacks, as well as corporate and industrial espionage.

We’re also seeing more maturity from organised crime gangs, and more sophistication in their use of drones. Centuries ago, traders in Venice used their newly-invented telescopes to gain commercial advantage by being the first to identify distant ships arriving with cargos – today, drones have been used in attempts to gather commercially sensitive information at locations ranging from racing test circuits to petrochemical stores. The same motivation, perhaps, just newer technology.

It’s not just airports, corporations, or refineries that need to plan for drone incursions. If your organisation is vulnerable to hacking; to industrial espionage; to reconnaissance ahead of a criminal or terrorist attack; to theft of goods; to the smuggling-in of prohibited items – the list is a long one – then drones represent a new tool for hostile actors to use. And they are using them.

The most important requirement for developing a risk mitigation strategy is intelligence, understanding the scale of the threat, and estimating its potential gravity.

Organisations are often surprised at how many drones regularly infringe the airspace around their buildings. This is activity that only a capable detection, tracking, and identification system will reveal. Among all the incursions detected, it’s sometimes possible to discern patterns. For example, if your system lets you not just detect but identify individual drones, you may discover that the same operator is returning to your site regularly, perhaps at the same time – when your security shift changes, or when a sensitive delivery occurs, for example. This is not just a hypothetical example: it’s exactly what Dedrone found when we conducted a survey for one major user in the City of London.

The threat is rapidly evolving, and so are the tools to deal with it.


Counter-drone solutions

According to the Center for the Study of the Drone, there are over 500 counter-drone technologies on the market. But tread carefully – very few of those have been assessed to any meaningful operational and performance standards, and some of them would certainly not be legal to use.

It’s likely that this number of tech vendors will diminish rapidly over the next year or two as it becomes clear which technologies really work, which are practical, and which are safe to deploy.

For anybody comparing solutions to address the present risk, here are some things to consider.

  • Is your counter-drone security program meeting emerging threats from new drones? Firstly, don’t just plan for now – take account of how the threat may evolve, and how your organisation’s requirements may become more demanding. Every environment is different, whether it be a stadium, correctional facility, port, oil pipeline or military base. Counter-drone programs should be custom-built to address the specific airspace risks at hand.
  • Is your counter-drone technology detecting all drones, or only some? Can the technology identify all commonly available drones, and will it be able to do so as new drone models become available? Can it detect autonomous or home-made/DIY drones? To maintain identification capability, the vendor will need to provide regular software updates. You may be told that a particular system can identify 90% of all drones, but that will only remain true if the vendor keeps adapting to new platforms, and some will almost certainly not.
  • Can you use different counter-drone technologies to customise your airspace security program? Multiple detection technologies should be incorporated to create a complete system, including acoustic sensors, cameras, RF/WiFi and radar, among others. Each detection technology provides additional layers of data, and you should be able to integrate a variety of brands/makes/models of sensors to fit your exact needs.
  • What are you protecting, and what are the areas that need to be protected? Some important questions to start with include, what detection range do you need? For example, some organisations may have a larger footprint and may need to scale their program to fit the area. Others may just need certain buildings protected. Another question to ask includes, what is the maximum/minimum height that you need to detect at? A covert incursion may come in low to the ground, or it may approach at a height of over a thousand feet, so check the limitations of your technology.
  • How quickly can you determine the location of the drone? Ask how accurately the technology detects both the position and direction of the movement of a drone. Even when extensive areas are being monitored – large perimeters for example – reliable pinpointing of a drone’s position to an accuracy of no more than 50m, and preferably much less, is a sensible goal. With the direction of travel (bearing), we recommend an accuracy of no less than ten degrees. It’s also important that a counter-drone technology has the ability to locate and track the ground control system (GCS), and with it, the operator. This feature will help you identify where the threat is coming from and allow legal action to be taken against the operator.
  • Is your system set to detect multiple drones simultaneously? If not, it will be vulnerable to decoy attacks, and even more so to drone swarms.
  • Is the data you are collecting immediately actionable? You should not need a dedicated monitor for your airspace security system. Detection analytics should be instantaneously available to enable security personnel to assess and analyse drone threats.

Against all these capabilities, you will need to take account of the particular challenges, performance limitations and operating restrictions present at your own site. There are legal considerations to bear in mind too, including GDPR data protection legislation and laws around interception or interference with communications, including the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006.

Looking at the various challenges, and the available measures to meet them, one thing is clear. Although the threat of drone incursions is a relatively new one, the security industry has the tools, experience and mindset to deal with it. The important thing is to ask the right questions, not to rush, and to establish an accurate picture of vulnerabilities, current and future.

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[…] has been well documented). The evolving threat was very much highlighted to the UK during an incident at Gatwick Airport in 2018, where a small drone caused significant disruption and delays for thousands of passengers. The […]