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DIY flying robo hacker threatens wireless networks

This SkyNET won't try to kill you, but it could make your life miserable if you want to keep bad guys from hijacking your home network.

Eric Smalley
Crave freelancer Eric Smalley has written about technology for more than two decades. His freelance credits include Discover, Scientific American, and Wired News. He edits Technology Research News, where he gets to preview the cool technology we'll all be using 10 years from now. Eric is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Eric.
Eric Smalley
2 min read
toy helicopter and toy helicopter modified with computer
Modify a remote-control toy helicopter (above) to carry a wireless-network-hunting computer (below), and you've got a menacing hacker drone. Top: Parrot SA. Bottom: Stevens Institute of Technology

With a name like SkyNET, it's got to be scary. This flying robo-hacker deserves its "Terminator"-inspired moniker: Although it stops short of actually hunting humans, it's a potential nightmare for anyone with a wireless home network. Worse, it's a DIYer's dream: cheap and easy to build and fun to operate.

SkyNET combines a toy helicopter and a computer configured to attack Wi-Fi networks. The result is a drone the CIA would be proud of. The nasty little device can compromise computers on wireless networks and dragoon them into botnets. Botnets are widely used for hacking, denial-of-service attacks, and spamming.

The devious beauty of SkyNET is that by controlling the botnet from a drone rather than an Internet connection, the botmaster is harder to track down. To catch the bad guy you'd have to figure out that a drone is involved, spot the drone, and follow it back to its owner (assuming the black hat goes to pick it up). Either that or catch it and do a full-blown forensic investigation to figure out who made it.

The prototype SkyNET drone is a Parrot AR.Drone quadrocopter modded with a lightweight Linux computer, 3G mobile broadband connection, GPS receiver, and a pair of Wi-Fi cards--one for controlling the drone and one for attacking wireless networks. The whole thing can be built for less than $600. The helicopter goes for $300 on Amazon.

SkyNET was developed by researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology (don't scientists watch movies? Don't they know by now that their creations inevitably turn on them and threaten humanity?). They're working to make the system even less expensive, according to computer science professor Sven Dietrich.

Fortunately, they recommend defenses against the attack, most of which involve shoring up wireless home networks by detecting new connections. No, setting a password on your router is not enough.

By the way, good luck avoiding an extended visit to a federal prison if you use SkyNET near a government facility, military base, airport, power plant, chemical factory, railyard, port...

(Via Technology Review)