Francis Brown, managing partner at security firm Bishop Fox, recently found himself watching '80s classic film Top Gun with the Kenny Loggins soundtrack "Danger Zone" blaring in the background. Being a security researcher, Brown, rather than being motivated to become a Navy pilot, decided to build a drone that could conduct aerial penetration tests. He's dubbed that effort the Danger Drone, and it's set to officially be demonstrated at the Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas on Aug. 3.
In an interview ahead of Black Hat, Brown and his team of researchers at Bishop Fox provided some early insight into how the Danger Drone is built, what it can do and why it's not a toy, but a serious security research tool.
"We have seen a handful of drones before that have been built as proof of concepts for penetration testing," Brown told eWEEK. "But now we wanted to take drones to a new level to show people how effective, or ineffective, their security is against a real drone-based penetration test."
Brown and his team are not drone aficionados—they are professional penetration testers and have a real job to do, which is to help organizations identify potential weaknesses, he said. The Danger Drone isn't just a one-off device, but rather Bishop Fox will make the plans for building the drone and the included software all publicly available. The plans include the 3D printer files necessary for those who want to print their own parts. The Danger Drone makes use of a Raspberry Pi as its primary controller, and Bishop Fox will be making the operating system and application software that run on the device publicly available as well.
"We're going with the Raspberry Pi because there is already a mature development ecosystem around it for drones as well as hacking tools," Brown said.
The hacking penetration tools that the Danger Drone carries include multiple wireless network hacking applications that can help a researcher attack WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID, among other protocols. The Danger Drone can also be extended with an LTE connection on the Raspberry Pi to help stream the control of the droid as well as the camera. Using an LTE connection to control the Danger Drone, as opposed to the typical radio frequencies used by drones, will make it more difficult to jam the drone's signal.
With the Danger Drone, a security researcher effectively gets a flying computer that can execute native payloads for security penetration testing exercises, according to Bishop Fox Security Analyst David Latimer. To enable longer flight times, the Bishop Fox team worked to keep the weight of the drone down, he added.
"It's about 800 grams, so the flight time is very good in comparison to a typical commercial drone that might only get 20 minutes of flight time," Latimer said. "The Danger Drone flight time is about 45 minutes."
All the parts needed to run the Danger Drone should cost $400 to $500, and an individual can get the drone built and running on their own in a day, he said.