2013 5th Inter national Confe rence on C yber Con ict
K. Podin s, J. Stinissen , M. Maybau m (Eds.)
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The Vulnerability of UAVs to Cyber
Attacks - An Approach to the Risk
Institute of Electronics, Signal Processing
Department of Distributed Systems
Abstract: By 2012 the U.S. military had increased its investment in research
and production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from $2.3 billion in 2008
to $4.2 billion . Currently UAVs are used for a wide range of missions such as
border surveillance, reconnaissance, transportation and armed attacks. UAVs
are presumed to provide their services at any time, be reliable, automated and
autonomous. Based on these presumptions, governmental and military leaders
expect UAVs to improve national security through surveillance or combat missions.
To fulll their missions, UAVs need to collect and process data. Therefore, UAVs
may store a wide range of information from troop movements to environmental
data and strategic operations. The amount and kind of information enclosed make
UAVs an extremely interesting target for espionage and endangers UAVs of theft,
manipulation and attacks.
Events such as the loss of an RQ-170 Sentinel to Iranian military forces on 4th
December 2011  or the “keylogging” virus that infected an U.S. UAV eet at
Creech Air Force Base in Nevada in September 2011  show that the efforts of
the past to identify risks and harden UAVs are insufcient. Due to the increasing
governmental and military reliance on UAVs to protect national security, the
necessity of a methodical and reliable analysis of the technical vulnerabilities
We investigated recent attacks and developed a scheme for the risk assessment
of UAVs based on the provided services and communication infrastr uctures. We
provide a rst approach to an UAV specic risk assessment and take into account the
factors exposure, communication systems, storage media, sensor systems and fault
handling mechanisms. We used this approach to assess the risk of some currently
used UAVs: The “MQ-9 Reaper” and the “AR Drone”. A risk analysis of the “RQ-170
Sentinel” is discussed.
Keywords: UAV, Risk assessment, Cyber attack, Security analysis
The targets of concern to cyber conict researchers are often either civilian
infrastructures or military computer systems. However, the increasing level of
technology in modern warfare and the reliance on these technical devices enforces
the investigation of the vulnerability of advanced military devices against technical
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are currently reascending military aerial devices
capable of operating without human pilots on board. Previously predominately used
by military services, UAVs are becoming increasingly valuable to civil applications.
UAVs may manoeuvre autonomously, relying on on-board-computers or be remotely
controlled by pilots from ground stations.
Within the past 5 years several incidents concerning drones have been reported by
the public news agencies, showing and increasing the public interest in military and
civilian drone applications.
The U.S. military increased its investment in the research and production of UAVs
from $2.3 billion in 2008 to $4.2 billion in 2012 . UAVs are currently used for a
wide range of operations such as border surveillance, reconnaissance, transport and
UAVs are presumed to be reliable, automated and autonomous machines, providing
their services at any time. Based on these presumptions, governmental and military
leaders hope that UAVs improve national security. However, reviewing UAVs from
a technical point of view, UAVs must be classied as highly exposed, multiply
linked, complex pieces of hardware with high strategic and economic value.
It is interesting and bizarre that there is more research done regarding the security
of modern cars incorporating car-to-car- and car-to-infrastructure-communication
than research regarding the security of UAVs. It is unclear whether this is an effect
of the closed-source-politics due to UAVs military origins or if these devices are
simply considered to be secure due to their original tasks.
System security should never be considered as a state, but rather as a process. In
order to support this process, it is important to be capable of describing and judging
the current security status. Furthermore, it is desirable to be able to compare system
congurations in terms of security levels. In order to full these tasks, we are
confronted with the questions: What is security and how is it measured?
Focusing on the technical aspect of the questions, (information) security is dened
in the 44 USC §3542  as “ … protecting information and information systems
from unauthorised access, use, disclosure, disruption, modication, or destruction
… ”. Hence, security is a value describing how good a system is protected against
the above named.
In order to determine how good a system is protected, it is important to know its
vulnerabilities. Technically, the vulnerability of a system is an aspect of the system
that heightens the probability of malfunction due to specic incidents. Depending
of the severity of the malfunction, ranging from the complete loss of control/
destruction of the system to mere errors, the vulnerability may impose a threat to
the systems security. In other words: A threat is a possible incident with a severe
impact on the systems security. An incident may either be an attack or an event .
In terms of system security, a risk is a combination of the severity of the impact
of an attack on the systems security, multiplied by its probability of occurrence.
Hence, risk assessment quanties the possible severity and likelihood of attacks. It
is a crucial value for any high-level security system .
Interestingly, attackers searching for targets go the same way as system architects
designing a secure system. An attacker is searching for a system vulnerability
imposing a high threat, implying a high risk. A system architect is trying to
eliminate vulnerabilities imposing high threats and hardens the system through the
integration of coping mechanisms.
To heighten the systems security it is essential that the system designer nds
vulnerabilities before attackers do. This is achieved by continuous risk analysis
and assessment. Risk assessment schemes dened for most types of software-
and hardware-components exist. However, none such risk assessment scheme or
guideline for UAVs was found. Alarmingly, the reported incidents regarding UAVs
indicate that the risk assessment – if used - for UAVs must be decient. This paper
aims at improving this situation through supplying a prototype scheme for the risk
assessment of UAVs and the initiation of an academic discussion on the topic.
2. UAV – BASICS
UAVs are highly exposed technical systems. To analyse an UAVs vulnerabilities,
it is important to understand what components an UAV is made of and how these
components interact. In order to analyse UAVs on a common basis, we described
UAVs in terms of component models.
Figure 1 shows a general component model of a standard UAV, without autonomous
ight entity and weapons. The model in Figure 1 describes the basic components a
UAV must incorporate.
UAV Ground Control Station
Figure 1. Right: General component model of a UAV. Left: Simple component model of a ground
The “UAV base system” is the foundation of the UAV linking together the UAV
components. It is needed to allow inter-component communication and controls
the sensor, navigation, avionic and communication system. It may be considered as
an UAV “operating system”. The base system also allows the integration of further
optional components such as special sensors or weapon systems.
The UAV sensor system consists of the sensory equipment of the UAV together with
integrated pre-processing functionalities. For common military UAVs these sensors
are often cameras with different capabilities. UAVs may be equipped with further
sensors, such as INS, GPS and radar.
The UAV avionic system is responsible for the conversion of received control
commands to commands of the engine, aps, rudder, stabilisers and spoilers.
The in-ight communication of UAVs is always wireless and may be divided into
two types: a) direct, line-of-sight (LOS) communication and b) indirect – mostly –
satellite communication (SATCOM).
Figure 2 displays the information ow between components of the UAV system.
Newer UAVs, such as the RQ170 Sentinel, are able to operate autonomously. They
may be additionally capable of holding and operating weapons as well as weapon
supporting systems (e.g. the MQ-9 Reaper).
UAV Ground Control Station
Figure 2. Information ow bet ween the UAV components and the ground station
To account to the above adjustments, an extended UAV component model is given
in Figure 3.
UAV Ground Control Station
Figure 3. Extended UAV component model
The information ow within the extended UAV component model may differ,
according to the UAV type. The exact internal communication may be relevant
for an attacker, if the attacker already has access to the internals of the system.
Otherwise it is not essential.
Unless physical access to the UAV is given, an attacker must access and inuence
the UAV externally. Luckily for an attacker, UAVs are highly dependent on external
input and therefore provide multiple input channels. Due to the “wireless nature” of
UAVs, these channels are wireless and hence difcult to harden.
There are several information ows between an UAV and its environment, as shown
in Figure 4. The two most important operational connections are 1) the bidirectional
information ow between the communications system and the ground control
station (GCS) and 2) the information ow from the environment to the sensors.
UAV Ground Control Station
Figure 4. Extended UAV component model with in format ion ow
However, additional inuences between the environment and the UAV must be
considered. These inuences are the changes of the attitude of the UAV induced
by the avionics, the result of weapons on the environment and the inuence of the
environment on the communication links.
The links are diverging in reliability and receptive to manipulation in different ways.
While the reliability of sensors and system components are mostly investigated
during system design, the consideration of the receptiveness of a sensor or system
component to manipulation is not common.
The key to unauthorised control of an UAV is knowledge of the receptiveness of the
system components to manipulation. To avoid third parties to take advantage of this
knowledge, the receptiveness must be considered during system design.
3. RECENT ATTACKS
The incorporation of UAVs in military services was accompanied by a series of
accidents having a broader impact on the overall security of UAVs.
One of the most recent and interesting incidents was the claimed theft an RQ-
170 Sentinel by Iranian forces. It is widely accepted that Iranian forces are in the
possession of the RQ-170 Sentinel. This claim was implicitly conrmed by a press
statement of US-President Obama, asking for the return of the UAV  .
However, the circumstances under which the UAV came into the possession of the
Iranian forces are controversial. Two popular theories exist that explain how the
RQ-170 Sentinel may have been lost.
The rst theory supposes that a vulnerability of the UAV sensor system with effects
on the navigation system wa s used to attack the GPS syst em, discussed by Humphr eys
. The attack uses details about the GPS functionality which make it easy to attack
the GPS system of an UAV by a “GPS-spoong”-attack. The GPS-satellite-signal
is overlaid by a spoofed GPS-signal originating from a local transmitter with a
stronger signal. The spoofed GPS-signal simulates the GPS-satellite-signal, leading
to a falsied estimation of the UAVs current position. Supporter of this theory
suppose that Iranian forces jammed the satellite communication of the drone and
spoofed the GPS-signal to land the drone safely on an Iranian aireld.
Although the described attack is difcult to execute, it is not impossible . If
Iranian forces possess the knowledge and techniques to complete a GPS-spoong
attack remains and open question.
The second theor y explains the loss of the UAV as a result of a technical malf unction.
The theory postulates that the UAV may have landed on Iranian territory due to a
technical malfunction. This may have allowed Iranian forces to recover the UAV.
Both theories indicate security problems. The GPS-Spoong theory emphasises the
necessity to include further and unusual components (e.g. sensors, input channels)
in the risk assessment of UAVs. Partial autonomous systems as UAVs are dependent
on their sensor systems in order to operate correctly. Furthermore, the sensor
system must be reviewed as a continuously open input channel and may hence be
prone to attacks.
Some reported incidents craved the destruction of the UAV to secure the
condentiality of sensitive data, , . The technical malfunction theory claims
that a self-destruction of the RQ-170 Sentinel was not possible. Regardless whether
this theory is correct or not, it shows the necessity to examine the autonomous
behaviour of UAVs regarding the security implications. An UAV must be capable
of autonomously choosing the right strategy in case of a severe fault to uphold the
Another threat to UAVs is the exposure of the GCS to vir uses as in the keylogging-
virus attack . The possible consequences may range from a loss of sensitive data
to a loss of control of the assigned UAVs.
Another type of attack reported aimed directly at the communication link between
the UAV and its GCS. During this attack live video feeds of an UAV were captured
by Iraqian forces. The attack was possible due to a disabled encryption of the
communication link. The software used to accomplish the attack was worth $26
4. PROACTIVE RISK ASSESSMENT SCHEME
We assessed the risk of security violations of UAVs based on our component
models. Accordingly, the overall risk assessment of an UAV is the summation of its
components risk assessment.
The risk assessment result of the provided scheme is multi-dimensional. It provides
the risk assessment according to the type and intensity of security needed. It is
a component-wise, probability-based evaluation of integrity, condentiality and
availability of the UAV . A high score in the risk assessment scheme corresponds
to a high risk regarding the loss of condentiality, integrity or availability.
The scheme provides information on the susceptibility of components to attacks
on the integrity, condentiality or availability of the component, respectively
of the UAV. According to the level of susceptibility, values between 0 and 1 are
appointed to the component (0 meaning “not susceptible”, 1 corresponds to “highly
The values given by the scheme represent the susceptibility of the investigated
component to attacks inuencing integrity, condentiality or availability. To calculate
the risk, the specic probabilities of the occurrence of an attack are multiplied with
the susceptibility value . The result must be evaluated according to the severity
of the loss of integrity, condentiality or availability of the investigated component/
UAV [6 ] . The aspects of security may be in conict.
The multi-dimensional risk assessment considers the different requirements of
UAVs. According to the general task of the UAV, different aspects of security play
varying roles and must be weighted accordingly. Therefore, the risk assessment of
UAVs is always mission-bound.
Figure 5. General overview of the proposed UAV r isk assessment scheme.
As seen in the component model in Figure 1, the environment inuences the UAVs
sensors, its communication links and avionics. Hence, the environment must be
considered in the UAV risk assessment. It is important to distinguish between
political and physical factors of the environment, as these inuence security aspects
The landforms may be classied according to geomorphological categories. We
considered two types of landscape (lowland and mountainous) and two political
states (friend or enemy). This selection is only for demonstration purposes.
The inuence of environmental factors on the UAVs security level in terms of
availability, condentiality and integrity is shown in Table I. The physical factors
described are not capable of inuencing the UAVs condentiality or integrity.
However, other factors such as weather conditions, altitudes etc. may inuence
The two political factors considered have inuences on all aspects of the systems
security. An UAV moving in enemy territory may lose its availability due to a
heightened threat of destruction, takeover, signal disturbances etc.. Additionally,
the UAV is exposed to the threat of condentiality or integrity loss due to the risk
of takeover, theft or manipulation.
Table I. Prototype environmental inuence on UAV
For the investigated UAVs, the satellite link tends to use the Ku-Band. The LOS-
communication with the GCS is often based on the C-band or WiFi b-/g- or
The following subsections give a short introduction on common communication
1) TCDL Ku-band communication
The TCDL (Tactical Common Data Link) is a secured data link developed by the
U.S. military, capable of deriving data from different sources. It may furthermore
route, encrypt, de-/multiplex, encode and transmit data at high speeds.
The TCDL uses a narrowband uplink at 15.15 GHz – 15.35 GHz and a wideband
downlink at 14.40 GHz – 14.85 GHz. The TCDL may be operated both with
directional and omnidirectional antennas and has ranges of 200 km at rates from
1.5 Mbit/s to 10.7 Mbit/s and low bit-error-rates. It may be used to transmit sensor
data of any kind, especially radar, images and video signals.
One characteristic of Ku-band-based communication is that it is susceptible to rain/
snow fade. Due to the high frequencies used the signal may become disturbed by
However, Ku-band-based communication is harder to overhear and hence harder to
actively disturb than other comparable communication links, as required by .
2) LOS Communication: C-Band
Generally, the C-band describes the electromagnetic spectrum ranging from 4 GHz
to 8 GHz. The C-band is used by a wide range of applications, such as weather radar
systems, satellite communication, cordless phones and WiFi communication.
The frequencies relevant to uplink/downlink of the UAV communication systems
investigated are 4.4 – 4.94 GHz and 5.25 – 5.85 GHz.
The C-band communication is less susceptible to air humidity than Ku-band
communication. Nevertheless, due to the variety of applications, several COTS-
devices exist that may interfere the radio signal and cause signal distortion.
UAVs tend to use omnidirectional antennas for C-Band communication, heightening
the threat of interception by third parties.
3) LOS Communication: WiFi a/b/g/n
WiFi, synonymously described as “WLAN”, refers to any communication based on
the IEEE 802.11-standard. The frequencies used and the transmission rates differ
according to the used standard. WiFi a, referring to the IEEE 802.11 a standard,
ranges from 5.15 GHz – 5.75 GHz at transmission rates of 54 Mbit/s. The b and
g standard operate in the frequency range of 2.4 GHz – 2.4835 GHz at 11 Mbit/s
(b), respectively 54 Mbit/s (g). The WiFI n standard may operate both at 2.4 GHz
as well as in the 5 GHz range. Due to the use of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple
Output), the n standard may transmit over longer distances and higher rates (up to
600 Mbit/s). To cover longer distances and achieve higher rates, the n standard uses
multiple data streams and up to 4 antennas.
Due to its multiple applications and free usage, the b and g standard must expect
signal interference. The frequencies above 5 GHz are restricted; hence interferences
through civil applications are less likely. However, this may change in the near
future (5 - GH z -W L A N )
Because of the omnidirectional antennae used in the WiFi standards, WiFi is
susceptible to eavesdropping. Precautions such as tunneling and encryption may
be taken, but the general risk of eavesdropping – compared to other media – is still
heightened as no knowledge of the signals direction is needed to tap the signal.
4) Summary - Scheme for communication links
The result of the general risk assessment scheme for communication links is shown
in Table II. It is important to note that - although all communication links impose
security threats to all aspects of security - the degree of susceptibility varies greatly.
The overall risk depends on the specic task.
Table II. Risk assessment results for commonly used communication links
Sensors may be classied according to the type of reference used. References can
be external or internal. An external reference is e.g. a GPS satellite. INS on the other
hand relies only on internal references of physical parameters, such as acceleration
or angular rates.
To determine the risks of the individual sensor systems, the characteristics of the
sensor, the importance of the aspect observed and the mechanisms to detect spoofed
or false sensor values must be considered.
Sensors with external references are more susceptible to jamming and spoong
than sensors with internal references. External references generally impose a risk
to the integrity of the system.
Sensors relying on internal references must cope with value drifts, a certain
deviation from the correct value over time. This phenomenon is due to the lack
of external synchronisation and inherent errors. Reliable coping strategies exist
and an external synchronisation may additionally take place when appropriate. It is
widely accepted, that internal reference systems impose no additional risk.
Aspects of the environment that are crucial to the correct execution of the mission
must be observed correctly and reliably. If such an aspect is observed solely by a
sensor with an external reference, a risk for the integrity and the availability of the
system may emerge. An UAV relying on GPS-based navigation is prone to attacks
on the GPS-sensors, which may be jammed or spoofed. In this case, due to the
reliance on the external reference and the lack of control and coping mechanisms,
the correct autonomous behaviour of the UAV cannot be guaranteed .
However, sensors observing non-critical aspects of the environment may also
impose security threats. If the values delivered by the sensors are incorrect and
other components rely on these values, the implications may be severe. Hence, all
sensor data needs to be checked before used. Consequently, only optional sensors
with reliable failure and attack detection mechanisms impose no additional risk for
The redundancy mechanisms used to compensate sensor values may additionally
contribute to the systems security. If several - but different - sensors are used to
observe one aspect of the environment, the acquired values are considered more
reliable. It is less likely that multiple, different sensors are jammed or spoofed
collectively. Therefore, it may be concluded that single sensor observations impose
an additional threat for the systems integrity. If one sensor observes a crucial value,
such as ight attitude, this imposes a threat to the availability* of the system, as
jamming or spoong of this sensor may lead to the loss of the UAV.
The above observations lead to the risk assessment according to Table III.
The risk assessment must be done for each sensor in the UAV system as well as
every observed mission aspect. Since depending on the mission, different aspects
need to be considered and different aspects are critical, a mission specic sensor
setup will provide better options to lessen the risk for the UAV system. Also the
application of sensor fusion mechanisms, as described in , for cross-checking
and enhancement may lessen the risk of integrity or availability loss.
Commonly combined sensor systems as GPS, INS, camera and radar will now be
discussed based on the results of the general analysis.
INS is a traditional sensor to observe positional data and ight attitude for planes.
INS is often pa ired with GPS as an additiona l sensor to acquire absolute position d ata.
GPS relies on external references, creating +1 for integrity. However, a navigation
system based on an INS and a camera system are combined to observe optical
feature - see  - it poses no immediate security risk, even though the increasing
deviation is still present. If all three systems are combined, jammed/spoofed GPS
values are overruled by the INS and the optical features. This combined sensor
system poses no additional security risk.
Table III. General sensor risk assessment, overview
Sensor system property
Sensor with external
Mandatory sensor with
Mandatory sensor without
Optional sensor without
attack or fault detection
To control an UAV, awareness of the UAVs current situation is needed. This accounts
to autonomous and human control. In current UAVs the situation awareness is
created by camera or radar systems. The multiple camera system MTS-B that is
used in the MQ9-Reaper consists of infrared, daylight and light enhancing cameras,
which are automatically fused to provide an optimal image. This heterogeneous
setup decreases the risk of jammed or spoofed sensor data due to cross-checking
and mutual enhancement. Although it is theoretically still possible to jam the
cameras, the used light would need to cover a wide frequency spectrum, making it
impractical and unlikely.
The results of the sensor system discussion are shown in Table IV.
Table IV. Risk assessment results for different sensor combinat ions and mission aspects
INS + GPS
INS + Optical Flow
INS + GPS + Optical
INS + Optical Flow
DATA STOR AGE
The risk assessment of data storage mechanisms considers three main aspects:
1. Volati l it y
The usage of volatile storage imposes a risk to the availability of the stored data.
If appropriate coping strategies are lacking, this may also lead to an inconsistent
storage state and hence result in a loss of integrity of the stored data. However, the
sole use of volatile storage does not impose an additional risk to the condentiality
of the stored data.
The use of encryption mechanisms may preserve the condentiality of stored
data. The lack of encryption generally heightens the risk of condentiality loss.
Encryption mechanisms do not prevent the stored date from being overwritten,
which implies a risk for data integrity. To secure the integrity, mechanisms such
as signatures or forgery detection must be integrated. These mechanisms have no
inuence on the condentiality or availability of the data.
Using the above considerations, the resulting observations are:
- The availability of the data is based on the volatility of the storage medium.
- Solid state storage imposes no risk on the availability, as it is considered
- Hard drive based storage and magnetic tapes are susceptible to force and
magnetic elds, resulting in a higher risk of data loss.
- Volatile memory such as RAM is considered to impose no risk for the
condentiality but may impose a risk of availability and integrity loss.
We considered magnetic tapes, hard drive storage, solid state storage and temporary
storage through RAM. The risk assessment for the considered storage media is
shown in Table V.
Table V. Risk assessment of com mon data storage media
The numbers in brackets imply that the actual value depends on the encryption and
signature used and may be 0. The values converge to zero if the data stored is signed
and encrypted using strong encryption mechanisms.
FAULT HANDLING MECHANISMS
Fault handling mechanisms are difcult to assess regarding their “usefulness”
in terms of security aspects. Although it is obvious that a “good fault handling
mechanism” should improve the systems overall security, it is not obvious what
good fault handling mechanisms for UAVs are. This is a common research problem
of U AVs .
UAVs are technical systems and prone to faults in all of their components. Faults
create errors, unhandled errors lead to malfunctions and disrupt the mission. To
prevent this, the emerging of faults must be prohibited or faults must be masked by
appropriate fault handling mechanisms .
Examples for fault handling mechanisms are “triple modular redundancy” or “fail-
safe states”. These mechanisms may cause restrictions on the functionality of the
UAV, but enable the continuation of the mission. However, the fail-safe state may
impose new threats to the security if the state is chosen unwisely.
Consider the following example: An UAV which is controlled remotely through a
communication link must switch into a fail-safe state if the communication link
is lost. One possible fail-safe state is to maintain the current position until the
communication link is restored. In this case the UAV needs to aviate based on its
on-board sensors, making the impact of manipulated sensor data tremendous. An
example of this type of attack is the GPS-signal spoong .
To assess the threats imposed by the fault handling mechanisms of an UAV
it is necessary to categorise the possible faults. A ne grained categorisation is
discussed in . We categorise security threats by severity of the fault and fault
type (transient or permanent).
Transient faults are often external temporary disturbances, such as communication
interferences due to weather conditions. Permanent faults are mainly hardware
The risk assessment of fault handling mechanisms in UAVs considers transient
and permanent mission critical fault handling mechanisms and analyses their
implications on integrity, condentiality and availability.
Different fault-handling strategies for mission critical faults exist, examples are
“self-destruct”, “automatic-return”, “land” and “hover”. Not all strategies may be
equally appropriate for all faults .
The possible fault handling mechanisms for severe faults of general UAV
components are shown in Table VI.
The “hover” strategy requires working avionics and navigation. For transient faults
“hover” provides the ability to continue the mission after recovery. However, due to
possibly limited sensor and communication facilities the UAV is more likely to be
attacked through spoofed or manipulated data. This invokes threats to the integrity
of the mission.
The “automatic-return” strategy provides the best chance of retrieving a functional
UAV, but it imposes the same risks as the “hover” strategy.
Table VI. Component-dependent fail-safe states
Fault handling mechanism
land, self-destruct, (automatic-return)
hover, (automatic-return), land, self-destruct
hover, automatic-return, land, self-destruct
Land, (automatic-return), self-destruct
The “land”-strategy needs a minimal set of working components and is also
applicable in the case of engine failure. However, in enemy territory it imposes a
risk on integrity and condentiality.
The “self-destr uct” strategy has the lowest risk of misuse or exposure of sensitive
data, but it destroys the availability of any UAV component or data.
The deduced risk assessment values are shown in Table VII.
Table VII. Fail-safe state risk assessment results
The risk assessment shows that the security aspects are hardly compatible. This
implies that fault handling mechanisms should be adapted to the preferred security
5. RE S U LT S
This section presents the results of applying the described scheme to modern UAVs.
The parrot AR.Drone is a remotely controlled quadrocopter originally designed
for augmented reality video games. Meanwhile, the AR.Drone is commonly
used as a research platform . Apart from research institutions, the AR.Drone
was also used during the “occupy wall street” actions to realise a robust police
reconnaissance system .
The basic hardware setup incorporates a single IEEE 802.11b/g  compatible
wireless communication link and an android or IOS based smartphone as GCS.
The antenna is omnidirectional and the link is usually not encrypted.
Apart from RAM (used to buffer video streams), the AR.Drone does not possess
any storage media. It contains two video cameras, an ultra-sonic range nder, a
low-altitude altimeter and an INS as sensory equipment.
The fault handling mechanism in case of an error of the communication link is to
enter the hover mode. Every other er ror results in instantaneous landing manoeuvres
The results of our risk assessment for the AR.Drone are shown in Table VIII.
Table VIII. AR.Drone r isk assessment results
The sensor risk value results from the following observations: The used INS is
accompanied by an optical ow measurement of the ground to track the position
, which represents a checked mandatory sensor. The additional low-altitude
distance sensor can be used to manipulate the ight height of the drone, which is a
risk comparable to an unchecked mandatory aspect sensor with external reference.
The cameras never overlap, prohibiting image cross-validation.
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper is a remotely controlled UAV. It is the successor
of the MQ-1 Predator. It uses the TCDL satellite communication system (SATCOM)
as well as a direct LOS C-band communication.
The control of the UAV is done by a GCS. The default equipment of the UAV consists
of several cameras bundled in a multi-spectral targeting system (MTS-B). These
cameras detect infrared, daylight and intensive light. The data is automatically pre-
processed and fused by the MTS-B. The navigational sensors are INS and GPS.
The MQ9-Reaper contains digital storage for video data. The encryption and
signature mechanism are unknown.
The results of the risk assessment are shown in Table IX.
Table IX. MQ-9-Reaper Risk assessment results
The communication system uses two independent links, which are both encrypted
The data storage is non-volatile, the encryption and signature methods used are
unknown. For our calculations we presumed the worst-case-scenario; no encryption
or signature methods.
The used camera system is redundant and uses fusion. The used combination of
INS and GPS poses a risk for the integrity of the data as the GPS uses an external
The accident described in  shows that the remote pilot must cope with
permanent faults manually. Furthermore, the self-destruct mechanism is activated
manually. This may lead to uncontrolled landings or ights and imposes threats to
the availability, integrity and condentiality of the system.
Due to the current investigations of the Iranian claim to have attacked an RQ-170
Sentinel, publically available and reliable sources regarding the equipment of the
RQ-170 are rare. The data available allows only a partial risk analysis of the UAV.
The sensory equipment of the UAV consists of infrared and daylight cameras as
well as GPS and INS. The equipment is similar to the MQ-9-Reaper. The risk
assessment of these sensors and the combinations are equal to the MQ-9. It is likely
that the scores of the Sentinel are similar to the MQ-9-Reapers scores, if not better.
The data storage is non-volatile; the encryption and signature mechanisms are
unknown. The communication link and the fault handling mechanisms are
The risk assessment of UAVs is a complex task consisting of vulnerability and
threat analysis and is additionally dependent on mission details. The discussed
UAV related incidents imply that risk assessment schemes for UAVs are lacking or
The provided scheme is a rst attempt to describe and formalise the risk assessment
of UAVs. A component model of UAVs was designed to categorise and dene a
component-based risk assessment.
The components “communication system”, “data storage” and “sensor system” were
analysed based on the used technology and known vulnerabilities. Environmental
factors and fault handling mechanisms were additionally investigated. Security was
dened following the denition in the 44 USC $ 3542.
The provided scheme was applied to the AR.Drone and MQ-9-Reaper. A brief risk
analysis of the RQ-170 Sentinel was done, however the curre ntly public available data
is insufcient to draw any further conclusions. It appears that the RQ-170 Sentinel
will at least score at the same rates as the MQ-9-Repear. However, depending on the
further system setup, it is equally likely that this impression is false.
The calculated values give an indication of the susceptibility of the investigated
UAV to attacks inuencing availability, integrity or condentiality.
Within this scope, risk was dened as the result of the susceptibility of an UAV
multiplied by the probability of occurrence of a specic attack on a component’s
vulnerability, multiplied by the severity of the attack. It was shown that the risk
assessment of an UAV is highly dependent on the assigned task/mission.
The described method is a rst approach to a general scheme for the risk assessment
of UAVs. The risk analysis and assessment of each of the named components
describes an individual research area. This paper understands itself as a basic but
crucial introduction to the risk assessment of UAVs in terms of structure, tactics
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