Domestic Drones: How Secure Are They?

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The use of drones is rising in America. Local governments and private businesses alike see them as a cheap and often effective way of having eyes in the sky. So can these drones be fully controlled?

In a recent experiment, a college professor and his students were able to hijack a civilian drone, raising questions about the security of the high-tech machines.

Todd Humphreys and his graduate students at the University of Texas teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security for a test - targeting a domestic drone. The group was able to hack into the GPS signals of the drone, manipulate its flight path and later, land it.

"You can think of this as hijacking a plane from a distance," Humpherys explained to CBS News, "You are as if you're at the controls of the plane, because you've now captured the autopilot's sense of its own navigation. And you can manipulate it left or right, up or down."

The test results raise some questions about the vulnerabilities of domestic drones - also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. Once strictly used for military missions, mostly overseas, drones are expected to fill more of our nation's airspace in the coming years for surveillance, law enforcement, land surveys and even farming.

"Unmanned systems are a game changing technology," noted Peter Singer, Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution, "They're a technology that prove to be a huge new industry. They're also a technology that is raising deep, deep political, legal, and ethical questions."

According to Humpherys, military drones are unlikely to be hijacked as easily as those in the experiment referenced above - due to sophisticated security systems.

There is so far very little regulation for domestic drones and some want the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with safety standards for the 10,000 drones that could populate our airspace by 2017. Major industry players have recently issued a set of guidelines to encourage safe and responsible use.

Humpherys hopes there will be even more discussion. "What I'm hoping... is that people will take it seriously enough that we can have it all tidied up by the time we -- we open the barn doors and let in the drones."

As a result of of his drone exercise, Professor Humphreys has been invited to testify by Congressman Michael McCaul - chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management.

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