Former military contractor found guilty of stealing U.S. Navy drone secrets

It’s raining military secrets!

Earlier this week, it was revealed that a group of hackers got their meathooks on an operator manual for the United States military’s MQ-9 Reaper UAV. The manual was fair game: a U.S. Air Force captain had it stashed away on his under-protected home network—you know, as one does with sensitive documents that could fuck with national security. My guess is that the captain wasn’t aware of the case against military contractor Jared Sparks. The company Sparks was employed by was developing an underwater drone for the U.S. Navy. While he was drawing a paycheck from them Sparks decided it’d be cool to upload scads of documents that detailed trade secrets to his personal Dropbox account.

The Navy, Sparks’ former employers and the U.S. Department of Justice? They weren’t really comfortable with that. Today, the Department of Justice announced that a federal jury has found Sparks guilty of multiple counts of the theft and of uploading of trade secrets, with each count carrying a penalty that could land Sparks in the clink for a decade.

From Gizmodo:

Sparks used to work for LBI Inc., a Connecticut-based defense contractor that makes underwater drones for the U.S. Navy, as well as weather data-gathering buoys for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While at that company, he collaborated with Charles River Analytics (CRA), a company that made software for the LBI drones. Sparks was eventually hired by CRA in January 2012, but before he switched jobs, he saved sensitive company and military information—including renderings and design photos of LBI drones and buoys—onto the cloud-storage service Dropbox, according to DOJ.

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Hackers swiped an operator manual for a fancy airborne killing machine

The MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle is a scary piece of hardware, capable of unleashing hell on an unsuspecting target from miles away, without ever being seen. It’s the sort of hardware that you don’t want falling into the wrong hands—even the details of how it operates are best kept squirreled away.

So, of course, a group of hackers got their hands on the Reaper’s operating manual with the intention of selling it online to anyone that wants it for $150 a pop. As with most security flaws, the exploit they used was all too human: they accessed the document through an Air Force Captain’s under protected home network:

From Task & Purpose:

Andrei Barysevich at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, who first spotted the document on June 1, wrote an analysis of the hacker group’s methods, which were fairly unsophisticated. The group used the Internet of Things search engine Shodan to find open, unsecured networks, before connecting and pilfering them of documents.

The drone manual came from a captain at the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the analysis said.

But that’s not all! As an added bonus, the hackers also managed to snag a manual for ground troops that details how to lessen the threats posed by improvised explosive devices. Where the chances of someone being able to get their hands on a Reaper Drone to pair with a pilfered manual are pretty slim, the information given to grunts on how to keep from getting blown up by IEDs could easily be put to use by an aggressor: if you know what soldiers are looking for when they're sniffing out a threat, then you understand what to change up in order to potentially provide your attacks with a higher rate of success. Read the rest

Children in Uganda watch a hobbyist's drone fly for the first time, and totally flip out

The way these schoolchildren in rural Uganda react to a hobbyist's drone flight demo is so delightful. Honestly, my reaction when I first saw a friend navigate his UAV into the air was about the same.

Mark Brandon Smith shot this wonderful video, and tells the tale behind it. Read the rest

Drone carrying cellphones, drugs, hacksaw blades crashes at Oklahoma prison

Officials in Oklahoma claim to have halted the first attempt in the state to smuggle contraband into a prison with an unmanned aerial vehicle. Read the rest

Obama's coming for your Christmas drones

Amid growing fears about safety and security risks from unauthorized drone flights, federal regulators say they plan to require pretty much all recreational drones in the U.S. to be registered. Read the rest

“I caught a fish with my drone!”

I believe this to be very likely faked, but nonetheless fantastic. Read the rest

Selfie drones are a huge problem in the ancient ruins of Provence, and the New York Times is ON IT

Never change, New York Times. Read the rest

Superman Drone

“I duct-taped a Superman figure to my Phantom 3 and flew it over Victoria Park. Glorious!” Read the rest

Citing close encounters of the drone kind, FAA bans UAVs near airports

New rules: No drone-flying within 5 miles of any US airport, unless you get advance permission from the airport operator and air traffic control.

Autonomous multicopter made from pool noodles

Mark Harrison made a quadcopter body out of sections of pool noodle, producing a UAV that's cheap, rugged and great for practicing on. As he points out on Make, the beauty of multicopters is that they don't have to be aerodynamic and their bodies don't have any moving parts, giving you lots of flexibility in design. Plus: "Let's face it, it's just funny to think of flying pool noodles!" Read the rest

Burrito Bomber: open source hardware-based drone autonomously delivers Mexican food

The good folks at Darwin Aerospace have figured out how to use drones to parachute burritos directly onto your property.

Miniature bee-drones made from pop-up-book-style fabrication

Gmoke sez, "Two grad students at Harvard have developed a method to print sheets of miniature drones, the Harvard Monolithic Bee or Mobee, that pop-up into their final form. So far they've got them to flap their titanium wings but they don't yet seem to be able to fly. Their construction technique can be used for very many other small devices too."

Pop-up Fabrication of the Harvard Monolithic Bee (Mobee)

(Thanks, Gmoke!) Read the rest

Churchill on drone warfare

A 1924 article by Winston Churchill imagined drone warfare: "Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings -- nay to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession over a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard?"

He called the article "Shall We All Commit Suicide?"

As Bruce Sterling points out, Churchill was a huge sf fan.

“Shall We All Commit Suicide?” or, Winston Churchill Imagines Drone Warfare, 1924

(Image: Predator Drone Aviation Nation Las Vegas, NV, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from davidrsmith's photostream) Read the rest