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Islamic State Using Small Drones Routinely In Iraq For Scouting And Dropping Explosives

Here on Techdirt we like to remind people that drones are not just death-dealing machines in the sky, but can also be a force for good. However, like any other technology, drones can and are utilized by the worst as well as the best. Inevitably, that includes terrorist groups like Islamic State (ISIS), as an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times reveals:

In the seven months of the Iraqi government's drive to recapture Mosul from the jihadists, small drones have become a signature tactic of the [ISIS] group: Their appearance on the horizon, loaded with a camera, signals that punishing mortar barrages will soon be on the way. Others guide car bombs to their target, or drop small explosives miles behind the front line.

Most of these drones come from the Chinese company DJI, generally regarded as the leading drone manufacturer in terms of market share. Clearly, the routine use of its products by ISIS is not the best publicity in the world:

Reports that Islamic State had used DJI products pushed the company in February to create a geofence, a software restriction that creates a no-fly zone, over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, specifically over Mosul.

But there are problems with geofencing. First, there is the issue of when a demand to geofence certain regions is legitimate, since answering that question requires a political judgment about who is really in power. Secondly, it's not that hard to get around geofencing, either by using quick fixes, or simply swapping to other drones that run on open source code that allows geofencing to be turned off.

Given that geofencing may not work, countermeasures are generally necessary. Those include rather crude solutions like shooting drones out of the sky with firearms, to more sophisticated ones like the DroneGun, from the Australia-based DroneShield Ltd., a company that specializes in counter-drone technology:

[the DroneGun] jams the GPS signal and radio linkages between the drone and its operator. The device, which sends out a jamming cone over a mile in length, forces the drone to either land immediately or to return to its base so that it can be tracked.

DroneShield's CEO, Oleg Vornik, already has some thoughts on what terrorists will do next:

"we believe organizations like ISIS will begin deploying swarms of drones. If you saw the Super Bowl halftime, you would have seen dozens of drones with little lights on them moving in a choreographed fashion," Vornik said. "That technology can be used to load grenades onto a large number of drones."

In other words, as drones continue to develop new and potentially exciting capabilities, so terrorists will eagerly embrace them -- just like everyone else.

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