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Security Concerns as Amazon Prepares for UK Drone Deliveries

Security experts have warned that the government must urgently regulate the use of drones in UK airspace after Amazon revealed it is close to full scale testing of its Prime Air vehicles.

The e-commerce giant claimed in a press release on Monday that it had received approval from a “cross-Government team supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)” to begin exploring three drone-based technologies.

These are: “beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas, testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles, and flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones.”

Amazon claimed the tests would help determine how to operate drones safely and reliably and also understand what regulations if any need to be drawn up.

However, Colin Bull, principal consultant of manufacturing and product development at QA firm SQS, argued that drones must be “embraced and feared in equal measure.”

“Putting it bluntly, these devices are in fact a flying payload system with the ability to deliver anything, including incendiary devices or grenades, in to uncontrolled airspace in the way that only Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) have been able to do in the past,” he added.

“We have to take care. Falling in to the wrong hands, there’s currently nothing to stop someone flying a payload laden drone into a busy city or even airspace.”

Bull argued that the government must standardize and regulate the radio frequencies such vehicles operate on, so that security teams could jam a signal if it’s suspected a drone is about to enter their airspace.

“Alongside putting regulations in place should be security measures,” he continued. “As with any connected technology, drones are at risk of being hacked by cyber-criminals, meaning software programming needs to be considered more seriously in the development phase.”

Bull is not the only security expert concerned at the potential havoc unregulated drones could cause.

Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist at the non-profit prpl Foundation, has also drawn attention to the increasing popularity of these aerial vehicles.

“As of now they’re not regulated. But the potential for these flying consumer electronics products to cause serious harm to others is undeniable. Just think about the havoc that one could cause if it were dropped onto a freeway, or flown into a plane on take-off,” he wrote in a blog post.

“Are we confident they can’t be hacked? No – especially as systems with far more R&D spend like connected cars, smart rifles and aircraft guidance systems – have already been hacked by researchers.”

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