DJI's rogue drone app helps pinpoint a pilot's precise location

App is dismissed by experts as being insufficient for fighting illegal drone use

Popular drone manufacturer DJI has announced plans to launch a software update that will force its drones to broadcast their information which would include the pilot's precise location.

The company said the new "drone-to-phone remote identification" tool will be available to anyone looking to find out information of nearby flying drones in a bid to increase "safety, security and peace of mind," the company said.

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"Remote ID functions as an electronic license plate for drones, allowing anyone who is curious about a drone in the sky to learn more about what it's doing," said Brendan Schulman, VP of policy and legal affairs at DJI. "Around the world, aviation authorities have said remote ID is the key to allowing more complex drone use, and to solving concerns about safety and security."

However, experts have raised their concerns about the viability of such a tool, saying that the system could be easily hacked.

"It's going to be very useful against rogue drones," said Elrike Franke, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, speaking to the BBC.

"But it's not going to be enough to fight people with real bad intentions, because these are going to be the first people to hack this system."

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That said, disruption caused by rogue drone pilots isn't considered to be the work of sophisticated cyber criminals, and it's easy to see how the app could be used to crack down on irresponsible drone users.

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For example, 2017's famous airport drone disruption in the UK was allegedly caused by an insider from within the airport and not a sophisticated cyber criminal acting from afar.

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However, with advanced attacks such as ransomware as a service becoming readily available on the dark web for affordable prices, it's not unreasonable to expect workarounds to DJI's "Wi-Fi Aware" protocol, the enabling technology for the remote identification feature, to also appear online.

The new locating feature isn't likely to be seen in the immediate future due to a lack of Wi-Fi protocol compatibility with modern smartphones – the app currently does not work on modern Apple iPhones.

In addition, the feature is being brought in to comply with incoming regulations that the Department for Transport is still in the process of approving. Expected to be revealed next month, the rules could take more than a year to implement which would mean smartphone hardware will have time to catch up.

Elsewhere, DJI recently launched its latest drone, the Mavic Mini, to seemingly evade existing laws surrounding drone flight.

Under current US and UK law, drone pilots must register for a license in order to fly drones weighing more than 250g but the company released its lightest drone yet, weighing a suspiciously specific 249g so no registration is needed to take flight.

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