Thieves are using commercial drones for burglaries

Pierluigi Paganini May 22, 2015

Law enforcement warns thieves are using the mini-helicopters and commercial drones to carry out reconnaissance on homes to burgle.

Security and privacy issued related to the use of drones must be carefully addressed in order to avoid dangerous effects due to their diffusion, there are several ways to abuse of such complex and powerful machines and principal concerns are related to their civil uses.

Last disconcerting news regarding the illicit uses of drones was recently published by The Telegraph, the popular newspaper reported that thieves are using drones to identify potential targets for burglary. It is quite easy to buy a commercial Unmanned aerial vehicle for less than $100, these aircraft are being used by criminals to patrol the area in which they have planned the theft, the reconnaissance allows thieves to have a precise map of the area and detect the presence of the owners. Larger properties represents a privileged target for criminals using drones.

“Unmanned drones are being piloted over private homes by burglars in a bid to identify potential targets, police have confirmed. Detectives fear the mini-helicopters, which can be bought for as little as £30, are being deployed to take surveillance photographs from above, posing a brand new threat to home security.” states a blog post published by The Telegraph. “Suffolk Constabulary confirmed it had received at least one report of drones being used by burglars to ‘case’ properties,” the newspaper writes. Although this seems to be the first such incident in the UK, Ars Technica reported on a similar use of drones by alleged thieves in the US last year.

The drones are highly manoeuvrable and can be equipped with advanced devices, including high-definition and IR cameras, and thermal cameras. The drones allow thieves to explore properties from the sky and can be used to identify unattended access points that are easy to crack and any physical defence in place, including anti-theft systems. The thieves can film the layout of driveways, identify on alarm system wiring and plan their routes in and out of the property as explained by the British Mirror.

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In the past cops also speculated that thieved were using Google’s Street View and Google Earth services in order to have aerial imaged of their targets.

“Drones can be noisy and very visible so hopefully criminals risk giving themselves away.” explained Paul Ford, secretary of the Police Federation National Detectives.  “If members of the public observe drones being used in areas which make them suspicious they should contact police using the 101 non-emergency number to report it.” “We must remain alive to the potential risks posed by the misuse of technology, but at the end of the day this is a reminder to householders to make sure their homes are secure, and to consider any extra security measures they may need such as a burglar alarm.”

The real problem is that drones usage urge a regulation, several categories of threat actors can use them for dangerous activities. Recently, home-built weaponised drones were being used in Ukraine and the intelligence agencies also reported that the members of ISIS are starting to use them for both reconnaissance.

Security experts are aware that is difficult to restrict the sale of drones, the most simple way to regulate their use is to require a licensing process, anyway this could not prevent that thieves could use them for the mentioned purposes.

The use of drones for burglary is not new, a report published by the University of Birmingham Policy Commission warned last October that “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA) are exploited by criminals.

“As a small number of cases have demonstrated, RPA present a potentially new and useful tool to those of criminal, including terrorist, intent,” states the report. “They are the ideal lookouts for burglars, train robbers, and poachers.” “Fast, cheap, available micro RPA, in particular, are difficult to defend against, given their ability to fly past and over obstacles to find their target.” “Traditional thinking with regard to the defence of buildings, for example, has concentrated on perimeter defence and entry point control. RPA offer the prospect that these defences might simply be bypassed.”

In the US, law enforcement identified a criminal crew dubbed the Tub Gang has used drones across New York and New Jersey to identify burglary targets.

“John Terry and George Clooney among stars warned over drones being used to break into multi-million pound mansions” reported the Mirror. ” “Digital footage on one drone recovered by police included stills of West 38th Street in Manhattan, homes along highways in eastern New Jersey, images of the Prudential Center and a movie theater in Newark. Cops say the Tub Gang is suspected of heists as far west as Illinois and Missouri.”

No doubt … urge action and regulation!

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – drones, burglaries)

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