All you need to do is seek out YouTube videos that detail how even the most rank-beginner drone hobbyist can update the software on a consumer drone to be virtually undetectable—a tweak that can enable flights over airports, government facilities, and other "no fly" zones.
Although national-security watchdogs have significant concerns over the increasing number of drones zooming through restricted areas—such as around the Capitol in Washington D.C.—government officials do not believe these drones are controlled by foreign powers or are looking to compromise security. At present, the rogue pilots appear to be hackers, the drone equivalents of joy riders, or just everyday photo and video buffs looking to get cool shots of locations off limits to drones.
"Anything we see in Washington D.C. that is a DJI-manufactured product has been hacked or manipulated to enable flight in these zones," a security contractor shared with Politico.
Consumer Drones Flying Over Washington D.C.
While there are few immediate concerns that foreign powers and other bad actors are using hacked consumer drones to collect intelligence, the fact that these products can be reworked to fly in restricted areas is worrying—especially as China's DJI is a world leader in the consumer-drone market.
The DJI connection to the Chinese Communist Party prompted the U.S. to add the company to a Treasury blacklist in December 2021, as DJI requires consumers to download proprietary drone software that could be monitored remotely by China.
It's not necessarily paranoia on the part of the United States and other countries.
Beijing is an investor in DJI, and, in addition, Chinese President Xi Jinping has mandated that all of the country's firms have communist-party officials onboard to ensure they "follow the party."
It will be interesting to see what the future holds—if the "threat" is merely giddy hackers looking to entertain themselves, or something more insidious.
One of the Many Drone "Hack" Videos Available Online