back to article Hackers able to turbo-charge DJI drones way beyond what's legal

Drone hackers in the UK are busy at work exploiting the application security shortcomings of a major manufacturer to circumvent restrictions, including flight elevation limits. DJI says it has pushed out a firmware update to nip the problem in the bud, but one expert The Register spoke to maintains that hacking is still possible …

  1. Chris Tierney

    DJI can't police this.

    DJI aren't the only route to drone ownership and at least should be commended for having a stab at drone safety restrictions for the uninformed masses.

    If you really want some high altitude footage then invest in some helium, weather balloons and learn how to submit a Notam.

    1. PrivateCitizen

      Re: DJI can't police this.

      DJI aren't the only route to drone ownership and at least should be commended for having a stab at drone safety restrictions for the uninformed masses.

      I dont fully agree. DJI cant police people misbehaving with drones but they can police what happens with their own code and drones. They have obviously felt the need to put some application code in place to limit the drone but haven't felt it was worth doing this properly.

      This is probably the worst option for them to take.

      1. Phil W

        Re: DJI can't police this.

        I'm with Chris on this one, DJI aren't (and shouldn't be) under any obligation to put these restrictions in in the first place, let alone continually patch them when people find ways to hack/mod them. It's more impressive that they bother in the first place, given the vast number of other manufacturers who won't be.

        Responsibility for complying with the law lies with the operator of the drone, both legally and morally, not with the manufacturer.

        Requiring manufacturers to make sure drone operators can't fly beyond visual range, or over certain altitudes is akin to saying car manufacturers have to make sure people can't drive cars with their eyes shut or break any speed limits.

        1. Thought About IT

          Re: DJI can't police this.

          "Requiring manufacturers to make sure drone operators can't fly beyond visual range, or over certain altitudes is akin to saying car manufacturers have to make sure people can't drive cars with their eyes shut or break any speed limits."

          Not quite. The drone operator is at no physical risk, unlike the occupants of any aircraft it may collide with.

          1. Thought About IT

            Re: DJI can't police this.

            "The drone operator is at no physical risk, unlike the occupants of any aircraft it may collide with."

            Got to wonder why I got 4 thumbs down for such a inarguable fact. Perhaps the perpetrators would like to explain?

            1. Phil W

              Re: DJI can't police this.

              I didn't actually downvote you for disagreeing with my argument, however I would point out that it doesn't really work. You can do considerable damage to other people with a car/van with no risk to yourself, as unfortunately recent terrorist attacks have shown.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: DJI can't police this.

        It gives them plausible deniability while allowing customers to get what they paid for.

    2. Jonathan 27 Silver badge

      Re: DJI can't police this.

      Even if DJI was the only company that made drones, they couldn't stop this. Sure, software hacks are really easy, but if you couldn't do that you could do hardware hacks instead. Say, hack the altimeter to display all values over the limit as their high - the limit. You can't really totally control a product that's out in the user's hands. This is a job for law enforcement.

      1. Smooth Newt Silver badge

        Ferraris don't have speed limiters

        I don't really understand why this is the drone manufacturer's problem. e.g. Car dealers sell cars which are easily capable of exceeding the maximum permitted speed on UK roads, and normally even register it for use on these same roads as a standard part of their standard service.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      News just in...

      Criminals able to:

      break laws.

      sharpen blunt edges.

      decide to take an action or not take an action.

      do something it is impossible for us to stop.

  2. TrumpSlurp the Troll
    Black Helicopters

    Conspiracy or cockup?

    I wonder how many sales are the result of this hack being there?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Conspiracy or cockup?

      I expect the number is going to be quite limited.

      Personally I would imagine that were you caught breaking a no fly zone with a bit of equipment that has deliberately been modified to allow you to break that no fly zone then your going to end up in trouble. A lot of trouble.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Conspiracy or cockup?

      "I wonder how many sales are the result of this hack being there?"

      I do remember when DVD players were new, the ones with the region lock override hacks "leaked" in the public domain were the ones that everyone wanted.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Conspiracy or cockup?

        "I do remember when DVD players were new, the ones with the region lock override hacks "leaked" in the public domain were the ones that everyone wanted."

        For some small value of "everyone". At the time, the market for "grey" importing of out of region DVDs was fairly small and specialised. The average buyer probably had little to no awareness of DVD region locking, let alone the ability to override it on some DVD players.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    underground groups of drone users

    oh no, we CAN'T allow that!!! Mind boggles at what those pesky (...) might come up with. Sorry I can't use certain words, because we live in a democracy, but if you're familiar with a certain set of (...-...) by an Ian Banks, he did have some ideas for micro... micro... youknowmicrowhats. Combine the youknowmicrowhats with a UK based underground group of drone users and... Theresa, what's that funny thinny doing behind the window...?!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: underground groups of drone users

      It's Iain (M) Banks, some Scotts use a second i in Iain, but at least it's more parsable than some Welsh uses of the letter to this philistine English monoglot. And yeah, drones that look like mosquitos would have an impact on our ideas of privacy. I believe Arthur C Clarke explored a post-privacy world, where the agent of change was millions of wormholes crossing the Earth... Hmm, maybe he spent more time chatting to beat poets in the Chelsea hotel than he claimed.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: underground groups of drone users

        No ambiguities, it's really rather simple. In Welsh, "i" is pronounced as the English "e", or before someone says that that is stupid, it's pronounced as the "i" in words such as safari, salami, shanti, chilli, scampi, muesli etc.

  4. graeme leggett

    unfortunately unsurprising

    In the same way that teens in 1980s fitted non-standard (usually illegally loud as well) exhausts to their restricted 50cc Fizzie mopeds to give more speed, it's all about personal achievement and damn the safety implications for anybody else.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: unfortunately unsurprising

      Reminds me of walkie talkies when I was a lad. One of my friends had a set that he was going to use to communicate with his girlfriend. Unfortunately his parents didn't approve of her and when they realised that he was doing this bought a set themselves. That way they could hear exactly what was being said and deal with any use after lights out. Being a geek even back then and having read about radios, antennas and frequencies I did some research in the library (remember them?). If you took the back off the things there was a tuning pot (from memory) and you could fine tune the frequency. So I basically tuned them them so that they were still broadcasting on very close to the original frequency but far enough away that his parents couldn't intercept the signal. All you heard was static and what sounded like garbled interference not two lovebirds chatting.

      Then looked at the antenna the range wasn't up to much at all, about 50ft was usable where the voice was still understandable - which was frankly crap. I looked at the antenna and spotted that the length bore little resemblance to the frequency used. I don't know who designed them but it looked like they had just produced the unit and then thrown some spare antenna in regardless of the performance it would give. Maybe they had a job lot unused from another model. So I soldered a bit of extra wire on the end of the antenna to match the frequency and they had a much better range and you could be understood at either end (i.e. her house). They then had a perfect method of communicating clandestinely with each other. Nowadays you'd just use a mobile that could probably be bought for the same money as the walkie talkies cost him. Back then this was for someone just turning 13 a neat solution although probably illegal.

      1. Mr. Flibble

        Re: unfortunately unsurprising


        That reminds /me/ of a time when I was using cheap walkie talkies at a horse jumping day to talk to my dad. After a few minutes a soldier came over to ask if we could stop using them as it was interfering with his trailer-mounted, army issue radio... oops!

        We were slightly concerned that our crappy device could distrupt army comms :(

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: unfortunately unsurprising

      My first successful homebuilt radio control transmitter used to draw around 5W from its batteries, when legal ERPs were 0.5W max and typical hand held units transmitted 100mW or less...and single channel receivers were so broadband only one could fly at a time...

      ..on the flying field a younger lad was yelling 'I can't control it, its out of range' and I looked at the dot fast vanishing downwind

      'switch off, I'll bring it back'..

      ..'what frequency are you on?'

      ..'It doesn't matter'

      And I did..and it didn't.

      Actually drones with GPS dont need to be within radio range to fly. Most are programmable to go miles away and then come back.

      And any competent person can build there own from arduinos, GPS units and model receivers and gyros.

      They are here to stay, and moderately out of (political) control. I suspect the answer is to simply say that any drone is fair game oir a 12 bore or localised EMP or gigahertz jammer.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "drones with GPS dont need"

        Because GPS gives you the position, height, sizes of every possible obstacle within your path, right? The real world is a bit more complex than any simulation on a computer.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: "drones with GPS dont need"

          Aha CBs modded with sideband and a burner (plus a decent swr thanks to being able to calculate then measure cables and antennae), my mates were all glad I was handy with a soldering iron and some dodgy rephotocopied instructions. My fiesta 900 was a proper hotbed of eyeballing in the late 80's

          happy days.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "drones with GPS dont need"

            Hygain V, zetagi 400w burner and a white K40 antenna.

            Ahhh. I miss the 80's.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

    But is it? Is it really?

    In other news, sales of DJI drones exceed expectations. Rivals at a loss to explain popularity.

    1. Andrew Commons

      Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

      I think at least one of the Mars rovers was saved because debug code had been left in the production software.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

        "I think at least one of the Mars rovers was saved because debug code had been left in the production software."

        As I understand it, that's not exactly the case. I believe they were actually designed with the expectation that their firmware can be updated remotely. As I understand it, that's in the specification for the forthcoming EXOMars rover, and it's not a "new" requirement.

        1. Pedigree-Pete

          Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

          I think I remember one Mark Watney being rather glad of that requirement. :) PP

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "I think at least one of the Mars rovers"

        Even if so, how many have access to a Mars rover? There's a difference between the code you deploy on the devices you no longer control, and what you deploy on devices you fully control, and which outside the reach of the users.

        With this kind of devices - including IoT - if safety checks can be easily bypassed, things may get dangerous.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

      It is absolutely correct to leave debug code in production apps.

      Only idiots permanently thinking of the terrorists or people "stealing muh intellectual prupperty" would disagree.

      (One guy in particular who wrote something about terror attacks via John Deere tractors or some equally abysmally stupid idea, can't remember. It's easier to commandeer a random truck, that's just the satb of a knife away.)

      Meanwhile: AI to Ensure Fewer UFOs: To respond to a plague of drones, airports and other venues deploy AI systems to track and identify intruders

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

        Are you speaking of Chris Roberts? I met Chris a year and a half ago and he mentioned something about changing the depth of planting seeds on the John Deer code and how easy it was to change the programming in their firmware for anyone who updates it to get the modified code. Also mentioned something about a train cargo hack his team was working on. ..

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "It's a bit silly to leave debug code in production apps"

      This is an issue with some languages which doesn't allow to remove code from releases easily because they lack a mechanism to allow for it, like "ifdef" or the like (and, of course, interpreted languages where the source code is deployed). Using "if" statements still lets hacked code to execute debug code.

      Debug code is also different from tracing code. The former may give access to functionalities that may be dangerous when used outside a test environment. The latter will just collect enough information to pinpoint bugs origins quickly.

      1. PM from Hell

        ****** Tracing code

        I remember being called in to the data center years ago because" the upgraded processors on the payroll system were running at 1% of the throughput of the old system".

        While the payroll developer was fighting with my staff over their stupidity and the fact they had obviously mis-configured the system (there was no configuration performed by my team it was installed by the vendor) I wandered over the system console, in the middle of the screen there was a grey flickering box. "Hey Dave I asked, did you turn off your debug mode before setting off the live payroll"?

        Cue a very quiet withdrawal of said Dave from the data center. Luckily he had decided to run the smallest payroll first, unluckily for us it still took 6 hours to run instead of 15 minutes so yet again tech support and ops had to work through the night to catch up ad we did want to get paid ourselves.

  6. Redstone

    Is it really hacking...

    when you supply an IDE that (unsurprisingly) provides you access to the device's API? That used to just be called programming..

    1. Hans 1

      Re: Is it really hacking...

      Well, this is hacking of the purest kind ... reverse engineering and then modifying software so that it behaves the way you like ... they had to fool the code into spitting out debug info, dev passwords etc ...

  7. Andy Non Silver badge

    Sooner or later

    Some twat will fly his drone in restricted airspace causing a collision with another aircraft, possibly killing one or more people. Then unlicensed drones will be banned outright with heavy fines imposed on violators. Flight rules are there for very good reasons, just like rules of the road. Just because someone could drive on the wrong side of the road doesn't make it a good idea or a "cool" thing to do.

    1. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: Sooner or later

      Just because someone could drive on the wrong side of the road on a motorway doesn't make it a good idea or a "cool" thing to do.

      Even though drivers can do all of those bad things, we accept that it is not really possible or practical to design cars smart enough to pre-empt evil/stupid drivers.

      Why? Because cars and roads were invented long before IT made mass surveillance possible!

      Today, "It Has Been Decided" that every possible known risk or abuse (and a few imaginary ones, I bet) somehow has to be foreseen and forestalled by "smart" software to thwart all those morons and terr'ists. Which of course doesn't work in practice.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "possible or practical to design cars smart enough to pre-empt evil/stupid drivers."

        Actually, it's what car manufacturers are implementing now. The problem was not "mass surveillance", when cars were introduced there was no technology that could make them "smart". We have it only now.

        Just like many devices were once designed just to perform their primary task, without any safety protection. In my childhood, I saw many people without fingers - or worse - getting goods from my grandfather hardware and tools store - most of them blue collars workers using tools and machinery that were quite dangerous. And sometimes existing safety protection were disabled because "they got in the way". Until they lost a finger, an eye, a hand, or an arm...

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Sooner or later

      If DJI was actually fast and expedient with adding and/or removing no fly zones and updating airspace structures I would agre with you about those removing DJI restrictions from their devices. However, DJI is known to be slow and sluggish in getting anything changed, leading people to being unable to fly where they SHOULD be able to fly. I can undertand people removing DJI restrictions for that very reason. This DOES mean that the responsibility for safely and legally operating a multicopter should lie with the operator/pilot, not with the company selling it. And it means those flying their craft well above safe altitudes in busy airspace should get a good clobbering before being arrested and thrown into a deep dark hole for a few years for endangering the lives of others.

      I've recently had to explain the same thing to someone flying a DJI Phantom over my home city. "But I'm staying very close to the roof level of the houses, nothing comes over here". 'That doesn't matter. You're under the CTR of the local (international) airport, that goes from ground to 1500 meters, above that is more class A airspace. And the police helicopter HAS been known to fly that low over here due to the local football stadium. I really don't care what you do, but YOU should realise you are risking a very heavy fine at best and a long prison sentence at worst. Decide for yourself it that is worth getting some shaky low level footage of your neighbourhood.'

      (Weirdly enough it seems to have worked because I haven't seen him fly the thing since)

      1. nijam

        Re: Sooner or later

        > ... leading people to being unable to fly where they SHOULD be able to fly...

        In the interest of fairness, equity, etc., I suggest that the same NFZs apply to all airborne vehicles - airliners, police helicopters, weather balloons, drones.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "leading people to being unable to fly where they SHOULD be able to fly"

        Most of the DJI restrictions can be easily lifted by the user - they are just there to ensure you can't fly unintentionally inside a zone that have safety, security or other concerns. You have to unblock them explicitly - so you can't say later "I didn't know I couldn't fly there freely".

        There are of course some zones where flying is highly restricted and that cannot be easily unblocked.

        Otherwise saying "responsibility for safely and legally operating a multicopter should lie with the operator/pilot" means the operator/pilot needs a license, to ensure he/she is aware of all the relevant rules, and any active restriction - a license that could be revoked from people who don't abide to the rules.

    3. Joe Montana

      Re: Sooner or later

      You could build a car that has a built in GPS, works out what road it's on and then automatically limits your top speed to stop you breaking the speed limit... But how many times have you driven down a highway only for the GPS to think you're on a different road nearby, such a system would cause crashes when it forced your car to suddenly brake from highway speeds down to the speed limit of the road it thought it was on.

      MacOS automatically sets your wifi regulatory zone to the country code being broadcast by the first access point it sees... If someone has a misconfigured access point nearby your wireless settings could become suboptimal or even completely broken.

      All of these features designed to restrict what users can do in the name of safety or legality end up causing problems, and they cause these problems for legitimate users. Those who intentionally want to do something illegal will go out of their way to find a way to bypass any restrictions put in place.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. DropBear
    Black Helicopters

    I cannot fathom why anyone would agree to fly a drone with a controller that you are not the absolute master of. Open source flight controllers definitely do exist, no idea why one would be willing to put up with an endless (and ever-changing) list of restrictions and dependencies. You _cannot_ "restrict away" stupid, if the pilot is flying responsibly you don't need them and if he doesn't, no restriction in the world will help.

  10. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    The BOFH and the drone, the Bossly Unit and the Bossly Unit's wife, and some blackmail...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "underground groups of drone users"

    If they are underground, how can they fly their drones?

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: "underground groups of drone users"


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "underground groups of drone users"

      It's a big cave...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "underground groups of drone users"

        "It's a big cave..."

        There are exits to N, S and E. You hear a faint shuffling sound.

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: "underground groups of drone users"

      Tunnels! Mate. Tunnels!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "underground groups of drone users"

        You might say they could fly them IN A LITTLE MAZE OF TWISTING PASSAGES, ALL DIFFERENT. Or words to that effect.

  12. Craig 2

    The only chance of enforcing hard limits on range and altitude is with actual silicon embedded in the controller chips. NOT firmware and without any kind of software control. Even then, I reckon chances are evens they wouldn't find a workaround eventually!

    1. cb7

      "The only chance of enforcing hard limits on range and altitude is with actual silicon embedded in the controller chips."

      Until someone wants to change the limit. Or different authorities want to impose different limits.

      Then suddenly it gets a lot more complicated not to say costly to make changes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      and even if you could stick that in the computer chip on a DJI, given that many open source controllers are arduinos or raspberry pi with an accelerometer, the workaround involves ebay/amazon and a not-maxed- out paypal account.

      Obviously the only sensible thing to do is to make each drone owner have a man suspended from a helium balloon carrying a red flag to warn other air users at all times

  13. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Beware of cats

    My sister's cat recently caught a drone. Pretty good for a ten-year-old cat.

    1. Scroticus Canis

      Re: Beware of cats - Be afraid of Horse!

      Who remembers Wal's cat Horse catching a hang-glider and dragging it back to the farm with his teeth in the pilot's left leg?

      (NZ's Foot Rot Flats by Murry Ball. One of the best cartoon strips ever)

    2. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

      Re: Beware of cats

      I hope the cat wasn't hurt in the process.

      We used to have a cat that would climb one of two close together trees and wait for a bird to fly between the trees, at which point he would leap from one tree to the other catching the bird in flight. My son observed him doing one day and it explained the number birds he managed to catch.

      A friend of mine had a cat that would catch and kill rattlesnakes...but that is a longer story.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: Beware of cats

        I once read a story of a cat that killed snakes.

        It would walk in circles round them at a safe distance. The snake's head would follow, so its body got more and more coiled. Eventually it reached its limit and had to uncoil. At that moment the cat pounced.

  14. Artabasdos

    Good. So tired of the nanny state. You can't do this. You can't do that. You can't go above x. It can't be more than x metres away from you. Kindly piss off with your overcloying crap.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Come fly a paraglider with me and see if your attitude changes when some a**ehole buzzes you at 100m as you are coming in to land.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh and would

        that be someone who has EXACTLEY the same right as you to use airspace?

        Selfish oik.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh and would

          Selfish as in ' I don't want to die/be injured because I am being buzzed during a tricky maneuver by someone who is safely on the ground and in no danger whatsoever' ?

          Yeah Im an oik and I'm selfish and its EXACTLY btw.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "who has EXACTLEY the same right as you to use airspace?"

          Yes, but not the same airspace at the same time, because that's just stupid and dangerous. And like many other situations - the "vehicle" that has less maneuverability usually has right of way - and there are also separation rules because of that.

          The selfish idiots are those who believe the whole world is just there for their own entertainment only (usually just because they have money to spare), and other people have to comply with that, because they have no rights - while flying has always been a very cooperative environment exactly because of the risks involved.

          The issue with drones is a computer flies them, so any dumbass can use one, safely on the ground, putting people in the air at risk. As I already wrote, there should be explosive in the controller that blows up if the drone crashes. Just to level the field...

          Anyway, when you will be hit by a car, remember it has the same right as you to use the ground space...

      2. JBFUK

        The problem there is the a**ehole not the drone. However, why should you have a right to fly your para-glider and he doesn't have a right to fly his drones?

        I fly sailplanes and I could tell you what I think of paragliding pilots when they selfishly get in our way... That said, we just deal with it, we don't lobby for restrictions or bans on para-gliders.

    2. lostsomehwere

      If I was in a plane put at risk by a drone, I'd want the "nanny " state to look after my safety.

      I suspect you'd want the same level of protection, .........................

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Epic Fail.

    DJI is the MSFT of the air!

  16. Johndoe888

    What height restriction

    Here in the UK if it is under 7kg weight there is no height restriction (apart from any local airspace restrictions). If over 7kg then its 400 feet above point of launch.

    If the controller in the drone has restrictions then it is a simple matter of replacing it with a commercially available one that does not, its not "hacking", its no different to replacing a burnt out motor or speed controller.

  17. Frozit

    Given that the majority of readers of this forum tend to be sysadmins who enforce rules on users, I find some of the responses to this amusing.

    Who says that my password can't be my name, or "password" or... Silly rules getting in my way.

    Who says I can't fly my drone into restricted airspace? Silly rules getting in my way.

    Quite amusing, tbh.

    1. Seajay#

      This is not quite equivalent.

      If you're a sysadmin enforcing a rule, you're enforcing it on someone who is using your system (or the system you are custodian of at least). The equivalent to that would be someone who is renting a drone from DJI, in that instance it's entirely reasonable for them to enforce restrictions on it.

      But if you've bought a drone then it's yours. Responsibility for flying it is yours now and there's no real reason for DJI to restrict you any more than an OS which you have bought should prevent you from setting 123456 as your password if you really want to.

      That's the theory anyway. In reality I'm much more conflicted about this. On the one hand I dislike the trend for companies to act like they still own the products they've sold us. On the other, preventing idiots from flying a drone over Heathrow is good for air travellers, good for responsible drone fliers (because it might prevent more onerous regulation) and good for the idiot (because it will stop them doing something that will get them in trouble with the law).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "But if you've bought a drone then it's yours."

        Yes, but you only own the hardware. You only licensed the use of the software and it comes with a 300 page T&Cs contract in 4pt pale grey text on a slightly darker grey background.

  18. rzrjck

    What's the problem? skilled hobbyist can build similar quadrocopter from the ground in few days

    What's the problem? skilled hobbyist can build similar quadrocopter from the ground in few days... (it means, no restrictions, at all ! )

    1. applebyJedi

      Re: What's the problem? skilled hobbyist can build similar quadrocopter from the ground in few days

      True, but you can't beat a good gimbal

    2. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: What's the problem? skilled hobbyist can build similar quadrocopter from the ground in few days

      A skilled hobbyist can also build a kit car and drive it on the wrong side of the road, "no restrictions at all" ;-)

      1. Seajay#

        Re: What's the problem? skilled hobbyist can build similar quadrocopter from the ground in few days

        I think you're missing the point.

        The question isn't "Should people fly drones in to restricted airspace?" They obviously shouldn't just like people shouldn't drive on the wrong side of the road.

        The question is "Should DJI warn people who are about to fly in to restricted airspace and require them to explicitly override the protection (eg if the airspace maps are wrong or out of date) or should they prevent it completely." The car equivalent of that sort of "protection" would be stranded if it ever hit a contraflow at roadworks.

  19. applebyJedi

    Those pesky regulations

    If only I could fly my drone 10 miles away at an altitude of circa 20,000ft, my life would be complete..

    1. Johndoe888

      Re: Those pesky regulations

      I know someone that gets called upon to pilot real drones down from 60,000 feet and 60 miles away, dream jobs do exist :)

  20. Herby

    Interesting solution to "illegal" flying...

    A shotgun (look, I'm in the USA, we have guns) comes to mind. Great practice.


    New sport. Taking out drones.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Interesting solution to "illegal" flying...

      12 gauge Browning, goose loads, modified choke.

      1. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Interesting solution to "illegal" flying...

        I think I'd rather use a Punt gun!

  21. GrapeBunch

    Talking Baltimores

    Sooner than later, they're going to start talking about a back-door that civil authorities will be able to use to control / ground / destroy / disable drones, preferably only those that fly off own-airspace. Another idea is that if the owner has a low or no level of licensing, and if the signal of the owner's controller is weak (for example, not within easy eyesight), somebody else can control and pwn the drone. Higher level of licensing, fewer instances of control by non-owner built in to the controller chip. Implies standardization and socketing of the controller chip, so I'm obviously talking bollocks.

    Another thought is to change the normal laws of property. When the drone is flying in my airspace, it belongs to the original owner as a liability, and to me as an asset, and then in both senses once I take control of it. Yup, "legalized theft".

    1. Seajay#
      Thumb Up

      Re: Talking Baltimores

      "so I'm obviously talking bollocks"

  22. DrM

    Software is licensed

    "Modifying the firmware of a DJI drone is not recommended,...and we strongly condemn any user who attempts to modify their drone for illegal or unsafe use."

    Isn't modifying the software a violation of the license they supply it with? Why doesn't DJI take legal action?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Software is licensed

      There is no such thing as software. So-called "software" is merely the current state of the hardware. I own the hardware, and can do with it as I see fit.

      Code, on the other hand, is a whole 'nuther kettle o'worms ... And on the gripping hand, "The Law", ass that it is, is completely fucking clueless about any technology invented after roughly 1950, and will make more of a shambles of things than it fixes for the foreseeable future.

  23. Arachnoid

    Self drive vehicles

    So given the propensity for humans to change things, how long before self drive vehicles have their firmware hacked by users.Yea lets have it cut into traffic lanes making all the other SDVs behind panic stop or exceed the speed limit by 5mph or jump through a changing traffic light instead of stopping.....At what point does "its my property I`ll do what I like" become a big problem?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Self drive vehicles

      "At what point does "its my property I`ll do what I like" become a big problem?"

      At what point does "its my fist, I'll do what I like" become a big problem?

  24. D@v3


  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It will take a disaster to sort this out

    The law is due to catch up with this soon - but because of Brexit it will take an age to actually do so.

    I cannot shoot drones out of the sky legally, nor may I hack them legally or block their signal to make them return to sender.

    They are not supposed to fly over my property without permission but they do.

    They are not supposed to fly over built up areas at all, but they do.

    These things should be licensed and the owners tested. The funds should pay to take illegally used drones out and the owners should be fined 10% of their annual income.

    I have nothing against drones being used legally as they are a fantastic tool.

    I fear that nothing will change in reality until there is a disaster involving a drone and an aircraft, or a drone dropping out of the sky and killing someone.

    1. Seajay#

      Re: It will take a disaster to sort this out

      They are not supposed to fly over my property without permission but they do.

      Is that true?

      The Air Navigation Order 2016 says that a drone of more than 7kg can't fly in class A, C, D or E airspace nor can it fly above 400 feet.

      It also says that if it has a camera it can't fly over or within 150m of a built up area or within 50m of a person or vehicle.

      So a <7kg drone without a camera can do whatever the hell it likes (unless there are local by-laws).

      If your property is not in a built-up area, then a drone with a camera is perfectly free to fly over it so long as it's 50m clear of people and buildings but lower than 400 feet.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this like...

    Unrestricting a moped for the next generation? I did that with my Gilera when I was 16. It was awesome.

    Also, I can see the police getting tools to help with this in the future.

    Its possible with a decent wifi antenna (yagi or biquad) to knock these drones out of the sky.

    Im not sure about the phantom but ive demonstrated to a friend with his home built wifi controlled drone that its possible to jam the signal long enough to keep it hovering til the batteries die.

    Theres a couple of loathesome rambunctious bounders round my way flying drones around late at night. I have a wifi sniffer active at night as a sort of silent alarm to pick up devices moving around that shouldn't be...i.e. if a laptop or phone gets nicked ill know when it went bye bye and if im lucky ill know some stuff about any devices the bungling burglars were carrying. Its not particularly congested round my way so this is sort of practical.

    As a weird side effect I occasionally detect drone activity.

    I think it would be entirely possible to script a solution that holds the drone in place if it flies over or within a certain distance of a perimiter.

    This could easily and cheaply be implemented at airports for example (where it's unlikely you'll concuss someone with a falling drone).

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Is this like...

      Designated drone drop zone. Airports and industrial sites have enough space.

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Is this like...

      Unfortunately a lot of them can operate with a pre-programmed route rather than with interactive control. You'll need to block GPS for that.

      Then there's the "return to origin on loss of signal" feature.

      I think an electrified net would be best. Attach it to the drone as it flies over and hope that it entangles the operator when they bring it back to land.

  27. JBFUK

    Just stop it with the bad press on drones..

    Enough of this media frenzy on the dangers of 'drones', hacked drones, evil drones etc etc etc. It's like all the alleged near misses with aircraft that Sky News are reporting on. Yes I say alleged because none of these have ever been confirmed (solid evidence produced) to be drones - in fact some have subsequently been proven to be balloons or carrier bags.

    These 'drones' are no more dangerous than any other radio controlled aircraft. There are already regulations and guidelines in place to govern how and where drones are allowed to operate, both commercially and for recreation.

    There are several problems here:

    1. Aviation industry has now taken the stance that any near miss should be reported as a drone by default - previously many would have been reported as UFOs (no not little green men, unidentified objects).

    2. It plays well for the government, aviation industry and other lobbies to have the use of low level airspace controlled more tightly. This would open doors to sell commercial licensing for delivery drones etc. Therefore playing up the risk created by drones and model aircraft works for them.

    3. Idiot factor. Whatever restrictions or regulations you put in place there will always be some idiot who ignores them and does something stupid (just look at car drivers). The solution here is to make efforts to catch and punish these people. It should not be difficult for the pilot to report back their position when an incident occurs (GPS position or how many miles out from the runway and altitude) - at which point a ground crew could quickly go out, track the drone and find the operator when it lands.

    4. Irresponsible retailers. Previously a model aircraft would be sold via a model shop, the user would also likely go to a local model flying club to learn to fly their aircraft etc. Now these things are brought off the shelf at retailers like Amazon, Maplin, PC World etc. It also takes little to no skill to fly one so people don't go to local clubs and learn how to use them safely. Retailers should have to provide and guide to the regulations with every sale so people can't claim ignorance.

    Anyway rant over. My point is it should not be down the the manufacturers to restrict their products to prevent the users from doing something they shouldn't. Regulations are in place. Retailers should ensure that buyers are aware of these regulations and the authorities should do more to catch those who break them - particularly those idiots flying their drones close to major airports.

  28. JaitcH

    Whose Bloody Drone Is It Anyway?

    I get very tired of having to ask one of my techs to remove restrictions placed in equipment by manufacturers.

    Just as the earth isn't flat, neither are the laws appertaining to many classes of equipment.

    My company has just settled on a remote radio control system for a military customer and it's amazing what features were unfolded before our eyes upon visiting the manufacturers and arguing over the contract. We can now, in house, change frequency bands, power outputs, etc., without reference to the manufacturers which helps us keep our customer lists confidential.

    There are tens of thousands of cars travelling around countries where there is a paucity of cell coverage, all busily pinging non-existent cell towers - because the damn manufacturers are too lazy to program their electronics properly.

    And the self-same companies seen to forget just who the hell their customers are - car owners or speed-trap cops/Plods!

    My first job when I bought both my new motorcycle and bare frame truck chassis (later fitted with a stainless steel body) was to disconnect the cell transmitters and other 'convenience' items. Then the motorcycle manufacturer had the audacity to 'recall' my machine as it was malfunctioning which is when I discovered what they considered a malfunction No calling home.

    And many of these wondrous electronics packages are the path the ne'er-do-wells choose to steal you wheels, or worse.

    Radio receivers intended for the US market have the cell bands muted, and some cheap / lazy manufacturers impose these restrictions on other country users.

  29. DagD

    License to Operate...

    ...and Oh! Goody!!! we can open up a new government department, sort of like fish and game that goes around looking for control units, make the operator produce a license and possibly land plane to inspect vehicle to ensure it has not been "jail broken" (I'm sure we can make this a handy plug in device that inspects the OS, possibly even force update firmware to ensure that old vulnerabilities have been patched...)

    Wonder what the pension options will look like...


  30. UncleZoot

    Been a DJI Phantom user since the Phantom 2. DJI has the worst firmware and software going. Back then, it was monthly updates with no responsibility by DJI when the screw up and your drone flew off, never to be seen again.

    When I purchased my Phantom 3, I did no updates to firmware or the application software. Doesn't need permission from DJI to fly anywhere.

    I also happen to have a private pilots license, and stay out of controlled airspace. Check the bio for the lawyer that DJI hired a few years back. He defended Team Black Sheep that flew all over London, including up to Big Ben and Parliament.

    DJI is just keeping the authorities appeased so as to keep the money stream flowing.

  31. PenGun

    Oh my lord. Just build one. I have a 6" Alien that is a beast and does just what I tell it. So much stronger than any photo drone that it's ridiculous. Learning to fly them is the hard part but I'm 70 and mine flies pretty good. ;)

    tl:dr You can rip out the flight controller and put in your own. Problem solved!

  32. Inachu

    If you live in an area that never has any air traffic and you live in the middle of nowhere then I see no problem hacking your drone to make it fly all the way up past 40,000 feet.

    Just make the area you are in Legally DRONE friendly.

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