Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have proliferated over the past decade, with new aircraft and applications appearing all the time. As UAVs become easy to access, it raises the question of these aircraft getting into the wrong hands and being used for nefarious purposes.
Criminal elements are already using UAVs both in South Africa and elsewhere around the world, according to speakers at the inaugural Security Drone Conference held at Emperor’s Palace at the beginning of December.
Jacques Coetzee, head of drone solutions at GoUAV, said a drone was used in a recent farm attack in Bethlehem, Free State. Coetzee said more than one drone was used to distract security forces and intimidate farmers. Coetzee added that a farm was attacked in Bethlehem between 1-2 December, after drones were used to expose weak points and map out the security of the farm.
Drones have been used for years by terrorists in the Middle East to drop grenades and other explosives and according DeDrone, a counter drone technology company, drones have been used to attack politicians in Africa. According to Sam Husseini, sales director for Africa at DeDrone, UAVs are being used in Africa for nefarious purposes such as dropping drugs and other items in prisons in Burkina Faso, amongst others.
Drones allow criminals to survey their target from the air and gain actionable data on the target and the movement of people in the area. Small drones have been developed that can identify and target people based on facial recognition, making them effective tools for assassinations when combined with explosives.
As a result of drones being used by criminals and terrorists across the world – with Africa being no exception – there is a growing focus on counter-drone technology to ensure airspace remains safe. DeDrone is one of many companies that specialises in counter-UAV systems. DeDrone’s technology detects drones with communications links that operate below six gigahertz (commercial drones) jams unauthorised UAVs. Its systems can also identify the location of the pilot. The company has over 250 customers, including in the military and mining sectors, and at over 70 airports.
Small, cost-effective and accessible drones are also being used for security purposes, such as Desert Wolf’s stun-grenade dropping Skunk. Displayed at the Security Drone Conference as the Sky Hero Loki 2 used for surveillance, but the aircraft can also fire blanks, ultra-violet dye and pepper spray, disorientating criminals in tight spaces.