The Coming Need for Electromagnetic Spectrum Security (ESS)

I think the electromagnetic spectrum is about to become a major security focus.

We all know that drones and driverless cars will be significant developments. We know they’ll have an impact. But I don’t think people realize how much these technologies hinge upon the airwaves.

Here are a few ideas that keep forcing themselves into my mind.

  • As drones increase in range, battery life, and control capabilities, they will become increasingly attractive to criminal elements

  • A number of uses for crime will become available including:

    • Watching houses for the best time to break in

    • Attacking people physically with large drones

    • Flying drones into single targets with explosives

    • Flying drones into single targets with poisons

    • Flying drones into passenger planes during takeoff and landing (with or without explosives)

    • Using a drone to drop a large explosive onto a crowd

    • Using a drone to watch sensitive things being done inside a home or business, i.e. capturing video or audio of sensitive conversations, data entry and display, etc.

    • Attacking celebrity and or political targets with explosive/poison laden drones

  • For driverless cars, jam or spoof the radar signals so the cars think there is (or is not) something near them, causing them to swerve into traffic and/or people

The list is nearly endless, and they’ve all been talked about somewhere. The question is how this type of threat be countered. We can counter physically, with people having umbrella shields they can deploy if they’re dive-bombed, or high-value targets having rigs with them that can shoot down approaching drones.

Or we can have EM-based controls, which disrupt the ability of attackers to fly drones in protected areas. I think this will soon become a big part of secured locations, including cities, government buildings, etc.

I’m imagining a few different types of controls, bypasses, and countermeasures.

  1. Targeted jamming, where you can physically track an object, aim a directional jammer, and either overpower or fry the receiver. Downside: you have to see/track it to be able to jam it.

  2. Broadcast jamming, where you cover a small to medium-sized are with heavy signal that overpowers drones and drops them from the sky. Downside: that’s a lot of EM to be pumping into the air

  3. Shielding, where drones that are designed to be malicious are shielded against overwhelming and may use non-standard radios for communication. Let’s say a city builds jammers at certain frequencies, and they just change their radios to way above/below what the jammers can do

  4. Frequency hopping, where the drones and controllers can dynamically adjust to existing noise and/or countermeasures by changing control frequencies on the fly

  5. Control drones, drones that fly close to hostile drones and take control of the system using either backdoors or by overpowering the legitimate control signal

  6. Controller targeting, where mobile drones and/or ground units quickly detect and triangulate the source of any controller units, and move with SWAT-like responses to neutralize them

  7. City-wide detectors, a number of cities already have microphones that detect and locate gunshots, and I think we’re going to get the same thing for EM/RF

  8. Mobile signal towers are likely to be piggy-backed upon for these detectors and transmitters, although interference could be a major issue if they’re jamming someone. The alternative is to create another set of towers which will likely create the same problem

All this, of course, will be a matter of cat and mouse, but we can expect the attackers to move a bit faster than the defenders assuming they’re brazen enough to violate the law in this way. High school kids won’t be, but ISIS might.

My prediction? The FCC is about to get an ATF upgrade.


  1. Few people know that there are laws on the books regarding hobby drone use that say you cannot go over a certain height, and that you must be able to see the drone at all times.

  2. Drone laws will work like gun laws, i.e. they’re quite effective against law-abiding types but of questionable value against criminals.

  3. The other issue is that drone technology is like attacks against encryption: they only get better with time. Range, control capabilities, automation options, and battery life—these are all factors that we can expect to improve in coming years, with profound impacts on what’s available to consumers.

  4. There is a strong possible counter argument to drone proliferation, which is that once they become incredibly illegal people will simply stop trying to procure them. Perhaps highly dangerous poisons are a good example. Why is cyanide not extremely common and used to off people bothering you in high school? Because it’s known to be ultra-prohibited, and this is evidently enough to dissuade people from getting into the business. Maybe it’ll be the same with drones once a few really bad things happen and they become outlawed like dirty bombs.

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