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The Rise of AI-Powered Killer Robot Drones – Computerworld

Remember former Google CEO Eric Schmidt? He's now developing flying AI robots that autonomously target and kill. (Really!)

His robots are in high demand for one simple reason: GPS jamming.

I'll tell you more about Schmidt's robot below, but first it's time to learn about the growing trend of jamming GPS, cell phone and other signals, which is triggering a global arms race between jamming and anti-jamming technologies.

The FCC's crackdown in 2012

In the USA, all jamming devices were banned 90 years ago – long before jamming devices even existed. The Communications Act of 1934 explicitly prohibited the intentional interference with radio traffic.

Both cell phone and GPS jammers work by “flooding” the area with white noise at the same frequencies as the cell phone and GPS receivers, essentially launching a denial-of-service attack on the corresponding radio frequency range. But it was the rise of e-commerce that spurred an industry for selling jammers online. In 2012, a bus passenger in Philadelphia wanted some peace and quiet and used a cell phone jammer to jam all the phones on the bus. Later that year, the FCC took legal action against 20 online retailers in 12 states for illegally selling jammers.

Despite the crackdown, the illegal use of jammers has continued. In 2013, RNM Manufacturing in Houston, Texas, used a jammer to block its employees' phone use at work and was fined $29,250. Not to be outdone by Houston, in 2022 a Dallas company called Ravi's Import Warehouse also tried to jam its employees' calls and was also fined $22,000 by the FCC.

Jammers are still available on the black market, which has led to calls for global bans. In the US, any form of signal jamming is illegal, so it may come as a surprise to Americans that thousands of commercial aircraft in Europe are put at risk by GPS jammers every day.

The European jamming crisis

The current dramatic increase in GPS jamming is almost certainly being used by the Russian military to protect its bases and assets from Ukrainian drone attacks. Since August 2021, more than 46,000 aircraft GPS jamming incidents have been reported over the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean, with new incidents being reported every day.

(The website GPSJAM tracks and displays GPS jamming in Europe and the Middle East.)

Major airlines such as Ryanair (more than 2,300 flights), Wizz Air (nearly 1,400 flights), British Airways (82 flights) and EasyJet (4 flights) were affected by disruptions. GPS interference has led to flight cancellations or diversions. Finnair had to temporarily suspend flights to Tartu, Estonia. And a British Royal Air Force aircraft carrying the British Minister of Defense was affected by GPS interference near Kaliningrad in March 2023.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a testing ground and laboratory for all kinds of military and malicious cyber attack technologies.

Specifically, the conflict is the world's first large-scale drone war. The Ukrainian side alone is reportedly losing more than 10,000 drones a month, and the country itself has produced more than 1 million drones since the war began; it has also received an unknown number from abroad, including well-known consumer and business drones such as the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom, DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, Autel EVO II Pro, the Bayraktar TB2, and others.

Both sides use drones in large numbers for surveillance, reconnaissance, espionage, explosives delivery, hacking, malware delivery, counter-hacking, and signal jamming. And while Ukraine leads the way in creative use of drones, the Russian side is more advanced in innovations in drone GPS and signal jamming.

Almost every effective drone and anti-drone operation tried and tested in the Ukraine-Russia conflict will almost certainly be used against corporations and other targets in the coming years. Given current developments in the war, cybersecurity professionals should be aware of three main areas in which drones are increasingly being used by malicious actors:

1. Bypassing physical security measures: Drones can fly over fences and ventilation shafts and land on rooftops to monitor security protocols and plan physical attacks using high-quality cameras.

2. Network sniffing and spoofing: Drones equipped with modifiable computers can mimic Wi-Fi networks to steal confidential information.

3. Denial-of-service attacks: Drones can carry out de-authentication attacks and disrupt communications.

Another simple prediction is that companies will face the malicious use of drones given the illegality of jamming in the United States.

The military-industrial complex gets to work

As Western GPS-guided munitions are increasingly being disabled by Russian jamming, the Pentagon is working feverishly on innovations to combat the jamming threat. (This is somewhat ironic, considering that the GPS system, the cellular system, and even the Internet itself were all developed by or based on Pentagon research programs.)

One option is to blow up the jammers. The U.S. Air Force has awarded Scientific Applications and Research Associates a contract worth about $23.5 million to enable guided bombs to target and destroy jammers.

The Air Force Research Lab is currently researching the use of conventional smartphones for real-time detection of jammers and spoofing. And while blowing up jammers is a short-term, immediate solution, the long-term solution is to let drones operate autonomously without the need to call home or be remotely controlled.

One fascinating project is the Pentagon's Rapid Experimental Missionized Autonomy (REMA) program. The project is developing plug-ins or adapters that can be adapted to ordinary commercial drones and allow them to carry out their missions autonomously after being jammed. Contracts for the drone autonomy adapter interface have already been awarded to companies such as Anduril and RTX for the hardware and Leidos, Northrop Grumman and SoarTech for the software.

Eric Schmidtflying killer robots

White Stork is a secretive startup founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The company builds small, low-cost drones ($400) that use artificial intelligence to target and fly to them, then use bombs attached to them to blow them up. The drones don't rely on remote control or GPS navigation, but use cameras and artificial intelligence to navigate and target. And because they're low-cost, they can be manufactured and deployed on a large scale.

Schmidt has actively supported Ukraine's war effort and regularly travels to Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian generals about using drones in combat. White Stork drones will soon enter the conflict, if they haven't already.

The future of disruption and counter-disruption

In the future, drones will be used more and more in warfare, as well as industrial espionage, terrorism, and cyberattacks in general. History tells us that everything the Pentagon builds and buys for the good guys ends up in the hands of the bad guys. This means we will likely need not just jammers, but defense technologies to counter armed drones that don't rely on radio signals but use AI for autonomous targeting and attack. Drones are cheap. AI is free. The autonomous drones are coming. We need defenses that are legal to use.

This summer's Olympics will be our first test run. The terrorist group ISIS has circulated detailed manuals explaining how to modify commercially available drones to carry explosives. The idea is to get the instructions into the hands of autonomous terrorists who act as “lone wolfs.” The group has also specifically called on its followers in Europe to launch drone attacks on Paris landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower during this year's Summer Olympics.

Faced with the threat, France has set up a drone defense coordination center at a military base near Paris. And it plans to deploy outdated technology like special weapons called SkyWall Patrol, which shoot nets designed to catch drones in mid-flight, and even laser beam devices. That may be enough for the low-tech drones they face today, but the AI ​​drones of tomorrow will require more advanced defenses.

While American companies, businesses and law enforcement agencies largely ignore the coming threat of drone attacks, Europe is proving to be a laboratory for what is possible there today and what the United States will face in the future.