Drone Attacks and Attribution

Today, there was an apparent assassination attempt on the president of Venezuela.  Allegedly using a drone carrying explosives.  The attack was not successful, though a  number of people were apparently hurt.  The incident is still clouded in the fog that comes with such events, and out understanding of what actually happened will likely change as new details emerge.  

Having said that, there is an interesting analogy to a problem we have in cyber security: attribution.  When attacks are relatively simple to perform and can be done from some arbitrary distance, it’s often unclear who was responsible.  Drone technology seems to be headed in a similar direction.  Drones continue to become cheaper, more powerful, and so on.  Unlike cyber attacks (so far), attacks using drones can directly harm property and people.  Given that drones can travel long distances and be piloted via remote control, they offer would-be criminals a means of causing destruction from afar, potentially without any means for law enforcement to tie the attack to a specific person.  Certainly, there are potential mitigations to this anonymity…  I am thinking about gun shot locators installed in some cities, but for tracking radio frequency emissions.  If it gets really bad, we may see new types of radar deployed in municipalities to detect unauthorized drone activity.

In the cyber world, attribution is, sometimes at least, a construct intended to serve a political agenda.  It’s quite likely we will see the same with drone attacks…  Was an attack perpetrated by a psychopath angry about a denied tax benefit, or was it conducted by a foreign military?  Hard to say.


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