Christina Cardoza

Feb 17, 2016 3:40:08 PM

0217.interdrone.pngAirMap, a provider of airspace services for drones, has announced new security experts are joining its team to collaborate on recommendations and ensure a safe future for drones.

Jared Ablon is joining the team as the company’s Chief Information Security Officer, while retired Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney is joining the company’s board of advisors.

"We're excited to have Jared and Tom joining us,” said Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap. “Over the next several years, predominant UAS value drivers will transition from recreational operations within visual line of sight to commercial operations beyond visual line of sight. The addition of these safety and security experts to the AirMap team ensures we deliver a robust platform to exceed the expectations of industry and government partners today and into the future."

InterDrone News spoke with Ablon to talk about what AirMap has planned for the safety of drones, and his responsibilities within the company.

InterDrone News: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ablon: I have been in security for over 12 years, involved in offensive and defensive security. Most recently, before I joined AirMap, I was at MITRE Corporation where I led efforts to ensure security of next-generation GPS navigation systems and other communications technologies for the U.S. Air Force.

I have been doing security for a long time. Essentially I decided to join AirMap because I really believe in what AirMap is doing and our vision for the future of drones. The drone industry will revolutionize our world, and AirMap is helping make that possible. AirMap founders recognized early on that to build a successful infrastructure for the future of drones, we really needed to take security seriously.

What is your experience with drones?
Prior to AirMap, my experience with drones has been more as a hobbyist. However, I do have experience in seucuring communications, navigation, and elements of an interconnected drone future. .

What will you be responsible for as AirMap’s Chief Information Security Officer?
I am responsible for the security of our corporation, so internal corporate security. I am responsible for the security of our platform, our applications and our software.

What we are doing is essentially trying to provide awareness to flight operators. Some security threats typically come from lack of awareness, so AirMap is trying to eliminate some of the unknowns related to visibility into drone flight by providing drone operators the means to fly safely. I am helping to enable that happen in a secure manner by making sure our data is highly available, is accurate and the integrity of the data is there, as well as the confidentiality of the data, making sure communications are secure between our software and our systems as well as privacy.

What do you see as the biggest security hurdles for drones?
Manned aviation has been flying pretty safely and mostly hack-free for a long time. So, what is the difference between manned aviation and unmanned aviation, or drones? Basically, the main difference is the ability to control the aviation systems remotely. That is really what sets drones apart, so the addition of the ground station, command and control aspect creates huge security concerns. If authorized users can control a drone remotely, so can malicious hackers. That is the biggest security threat for drones.

How can we address that then?
I would say it is not just one solution to this problem, but a set of best practices that should be followed. Some of those things include checking remote sensor data to ensure it is accurate. In most cases that means having GPS anti-spoof algorithms and alternative navigation methods beyond GPS. It is ensuring mutual authentication from the drone and the controller as well as encryption on all communications.

The authentication and encryption should be based on cryptologically strong algorithms and trusted implementations: putting failsafe algorithms in place so when something does go wrong [and] there is a way to safely handle the situation. Following security best practices for development of software and hardware such as static and dynamic analysis of source code and removal of debugging connections. Lastly, providing updates to drones automatically and remotely with software and firmware so that, as new security algorithms are added and new vulnerabilities are discovered, they can be patched quickly.

How is AirMap going to be part of the solution? Are you concerned with just the security within the company or throughout the entire industry?

We are definitely looking to bring—as far as our platform is concerned—awareness to drone operators, and so that awareness as I mentioned earlier helps having the visibility into drone flight and providing drone operators the means to fly safely. We are doing a lot of that here at AirMap, but personally I am interested in partnering with manufacturers and helping ingest our data in a safe manner and then also using it to operate drones more safely.

Where do you think the drone industry is going?
At this point it is easy to speculate and guess on where the industry is going, but it is a lot like the Internet in its early years. We can't really imagine where the industry is going to be. In the 1990s it would have been hard to imagine where we are today with the Internet, that it is basically in our pockets with our cell phones. A similar thing is going to happen with the drone industry.

Because drones are at a cheap enough price point, companies are starting to build around the usage of drones and creating an industry around that usage. That is really going to spike the usage and create innovation beyond what we can imagine today, but I do think it is definitely going to change the world that we live in.

What are the benefits of the drone industry?
In the future, your average person is going to benefit from drones probably on a daily basis, and it will be everything from receiving packages to doing analysis on the food you are getting. Maybe there will be higher production meals because the agriculture industry is using drones.

How can we ensure the safety and security of drones?
One of the issues is, as the price point comes down and there are new startup manufacturers that are building drones, a lot of times they are working on really constrained resources, so security gets pushed aside. As new entrants come into the marketplace, ensuring that they are taking security seriously and doing the best practices that I outlined earlier is key to ensuring that the whole ecosystem is secure.

What should you say to people who are skeptical of drones?
By nature as a security person and being in the field for so long, I am always paranoid and skeptical. However, I do believe that the drone industry will get to a point where they will be flying very safely and securely, and people won’t have to worry about malicious attacks coming in, taking over drones and doing malicious things with them. Will that happen along the way? It is possible that it will happen especially in the early days of the industry, but as time goes on there will be a lot more trust in the security of drones.

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