The role of drones in criminal activity has increased significantly in recent years.
Accordingly, such devices frequently contain vital evidence, including user information, connected mobile devices and computers, onboard cameras and video recordings, and network communications between the drone and its controller.
In the area of cyber forensics, law enforcement has a significant challenge keeping up with technology changes.
New technology, both hardware and software, is released into the market at a very rapid pace and used in criminal activity almost immediately.
The large volume of information contained on these devices can make the difference in an investigation, and law enforcement investigators require updated tools to address the changing technology.
To expand law enforcement capabilities to identify, collect and analyze evidentiary data from consumer and professional drones, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has awarded a $928,541 research-and-development contract to VTO Inc. of Broomfield, Colorado.
The award is part of the S&T Cyber Security Division’s (CSD) Cyber Forensics project, which develops cost-effective and novel cyber forensics solutions that help law enforcement keep pace with advances in technology.
The project focuses on development of new capabilities to help law enforcement with the forensic investigations of digital evidence from various devices such as mobile phones and automobile infotainment systems.
“Drones are an emerging area of interest for law enforcement because they contain data that may be key in criminal investigations,” said Acting DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology William N. Bryan.
“Like other digital devices such as computers and phones, law enforcement agencies require new capabilities to recover evidence from drones and their cameras, sensors and other devices.”
“This project will deliver these capabilities.”
The drone forensics work will focus on conducting cutting-edge research that will address key aspects of collecting digital forensics data from drone systems.
During the research, VTO will target the identification and definition of the various data types residing on drones and their connected systems to include:
- Drone board systems
- Flight controllers
- Connected mobile devices and computers
- Onboard cameras, and
- Network communications between a drone and its controller
The company also will seek to identify each drone’s data-acquisition method, including logical and physical acquisition opportunities such as circuit board-level interface (JTAG) and flash-memory removal (chip-off) to identify data artifacts on drones.
The project’s final deliverable will be a website that will support law enforcement officers, forensic services specialists and researchers.
This website will be populated with instruction information obtained from the complete physical teardown and analysis of sample consumer- and professional-level drones as well as their connected controllers and peripheral devices.
“This drone forensics project will provide law enforcement the ability to extract and analyze evidentiary data from expensive and sophisticated professional drones to relatively simple store-bought drones,” said Megan Mahle, Program Manager in S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).
“This is a capability the law enforcement community needs, especially as the popularity of drones and their use in criminal activity continues to grow.”
(The Cyber Security Division’s mission is to enhance the security and resilience of the nation’s critical information infrastructure and the Internet by developing and delivering new technologies, tools and techniques; conducting and supporting technology transition; and leading and coordinating research and development. Courtesy of DHS Science and Technology Directorate and YouTube)
CSD’s mission is to enhance the security and resilience of the nation’s critical information infrastructure and the Internet by developing and delivering new technologies, tools and techniques to defend against cyberattacks.
The division, which is part of S&T’s HSARPA, conducts and supports technology transitions and leads and coordinates research and development among DHS components, government agencies, the private sector and international partners.
For more information about CSD, visit https://www.dhs.gov/cyber-research.