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With fantastic teeny model helicopters sporting mini hacked Linux platforms that long to take over your wireless network and wreak havoc, or so recent headlines would suggest. Now, we’re big fans of innovation, and technology on the go, but these pseudo-drones (built on the cheap, for the under-budgeted aspirer of wireless world domination) lack the stealthy sensibility we’ve come to expect, and so might fall short in the pervasive attack department. What is interesting, is when embedded systems become light enough and power efficient enough to pack some real processor wallop into something very mobile, then expect a new range of mobile innovation, good and evil, to be headed your way.
I’m typing this while sitting next to a tiny 5 Watt full-fledged server, called a GuruPlug. This little gem plugs into a wall socket, like your cordless phone wall power adapter, but the entire server is contained in the wall adapter sized housing about the size of your fist. It has enough power to serve up a website, back up some documents, extend storage (though external USB/eSATA drives), serve as a wireless router, gateway, firewall, and most other functions you can fit on a standard Debian Linux server. Not too shabby for around 100 bucks, and it replaced the full-fledged 250W power supplied big server I WAS using, nice.
Can you cram embedded full operating system single board computers onboard a model aircraft? Sure. Can you get them to behave in the air? Well, maybe. Anyone who’s been able to get a pool ball to balance on the tip of a cue stick while they go make a sandwich, might understand the difficulty. Not to say that advances in stabilized, GPS-navigated flight aren’t coming along nicely, but helicopter-derived drone clones have the nagging tendency to find the shortest path to the earth, left on their own. Well, at least sub-million dollar varieties would.
And then there’s what to do when you get the wireless? Well, yes, you can hover about, but not silently, and you’d have to launch from somewhere near where you were, and probably return there later in the interest of re-usability. I guess maybe the same thing (though much more quietly) could be accomplished by donning a homeless guy ruse and depositing a non-descript hack-platform-laden crumpled paper sack near the window of a suspected hack target, then staggering by later to collect your stealthy device.
Will we see sub-$1000 nefarious devices hovering soon? Hmmm… Concerned? It’s easy enough to beef up your wireless encryption settings in anticipation of wayward drones, and hey, it’s not a bad idea anyway. You may not thwart the stealthiest aerial attempts, but it can keep you from getting blamed for your neighbors’ browsing habits, if they happen to make easy work of your security and tag along on your broadband connection. In the meantime, there’s still time to join your local model helicopter club and bone up on the sk1llz required for the exercise. As a side benefit, you might find you like flying model helicopters so much it fills the void you were attempting to fill with aerial crime sprees, who knows?
Author Cameron Camp, ESET