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An Australian Company Says It Can Hijack Drones Wirelessly

Drones are kinda loud and annoying, but they’re also a potential threat to public safety or privacy if they’re snooping into restricted airspace. ASX-listed Department 13 has built a system it says can monitor Wi-Fi and GPS tracking signals to detect nearby drone activity, then jump in on top of those broadcasts to take over the flying gadget and redirect it to

Mesmer, the mysteriously named product from D13, is interesting in that it doesn’t jam the signals going to a drone from an operator, and it’s not a kinetic weapon — it doesn’t throw a net or glorified tennis ball to effectively knock a drone out of the sky. Instead, a bunch of high-powered wireless antennas covering a range of frequencies and protocols including Wi-Fi and GPS first sniff out the kind of signals transmitted between flying drones and their wireless-transmitting controllers, and then mimic them to hijack the drone and fly it away.

Department 13’s website is a mess of HTML and incorrect links, which doesn’t inspire confidence, but the company and its Australian distribution partner EPE apparently successfully demonstrated Mesmer to the Counter Non-Traditional Threats Conference at ADFA in Canberra. It also featured in a Today Show segment around drone security at the Trump inauguration over the weekend.

Here’s D13’s sales pitch for Mesmer:

The MESMER platform uses sophisticated automated detection and mitigation strategies to stop, redirect, land or take control of drones across a range of national security, defense and commercial scenarios. MESMER’s key differentiator is its ability to manipulate weaknesses in all digital radio protocols and take control of a drone’s computer, allowing it to land drones safely by flying them into a defined exclusion zone.

The appeal of a system that doesn’t send drones haywire electronically and that doesn’t physically disable them — potentially dropping them onto a crowd of people — is obvious. Mesmer’s chief competition seems to be drone detection company Droneshield’s DroneGun, although that system forces drones either to land vertically or to return back to their point of departure.

D13 is selling the Mesmer system to commercial, military and government operators in 37 countries, although we don’t think the likely price of this kind of hardware will be something you can purchase yourself to keep the peace overhead at your next picnic. [Department 13]


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