Crimes Involving Drones Prompt Study of Drone Forensics

Recent crimes involving drones have heightened the need for the study of drone forensics, which enables investigators to retrieve photos and videos taken by the drone, along with GPS coordinates of flight paths and user information, such as username or credit card details that could link the drone to its owner

The US Department of Homeland Security worked with the digital forensics and cybersecurity firm, VTO Labs, to examine different types of drones to see what could be discovered.

“Drones were starting to land in places where we didn’t want them to. They were landing at government facilities and military bases; they were coming across the border,” says VTO Labs chief executive officer, Steve Watson. “We seek to answer basic investigative questions from data stored within the drone or its connected devices. Where did the drone take off from? Has the drone flown other routes? Can we identify who the drone is registered to? What devices or networks has the drone connected to?”

Data extraction is made more complicated by the numbers of different types of drones on the market. VTO Labs flew 30 different models of drones ranging in price from $100 to $35,000 US. The drones were then disassembled to find out what kind of information could be retrieved. Data may be found within a drone on its circuit board, onboard cameras, and chips, along with information on the controller and remotely connected devices.

“Our focus at VTO Labs is on retrieving data from new technologies and problem areas. Devices with no known digital forensic protocols. Prototype devices. New technologies not yet deployed to the public,” said Warson.

The information they compiled was used by The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create the Computer Forensic Reference Datasets that contain device specifications and sample digital evidence that investigators can download for free to learn.