Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood

and the only protection may be to bring sanity to the same neighborhoods.

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/nuclear-weapon.jpg

MAD, that is Mutual Assured Destruction, is the “principle of (military) deterrence “founded on the notion that a nuclear attack by one superpower would be met with an overwhelming nuclear counterattack such that both the attacker and the defender would be annihilated."

The “drone threat to critical infrastructure” described, exactly one month ago, by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists seems to me to have the potential to bring “neighborhood-level MAD”.

Drones. Terrorist drones everywhere!

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/counter-drone.jpg
<a href="https://thebulletin.org/2021/11/a-cascading-catastrophe-the-drone-threat-to-critical-infrastructure/" target="_blank">Italian soldiers, with anti-drone weapons</a>


The gist of the article is that:

  • commercially available drones continue to get cheaper, larger and more autonomous, that is able to reach a target without anybody piloting them
  • with such drones, terrorists could “strike with a small munition with surprising accuracy with near complete surprise into areas that are believed to be safe”, including critical infrastructures
  • …without any suicide-based method, and much less personal risks in general

The Bulleting describes several cases, from Middle East to the USA and from New Zealand to Japan, in which drones have already been used by terrorists for actual attacks, or at least for reconnaissance, to prepare some attacks. That article, however, does not seem to me to bring enough attention on certain implications, or levels, of the problem.

This is not just about “real” terrorists or “real” infrastructures

What are “critical” infrastructures, again? The answer is “it depends”. They may even be stuff like this:

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/bus-stop.jpg

Once decent, off the sheld drones become cheap enough, that is, pretty much everything can become “critical”. NOT in the traditional sense of the world, mind you! But as “something that costs much more to my enemies to repair, than to me to destroy, so let’s smash it!” More on this in a moment.

“Boys will be boys”

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/child-with-drone.jpg

An even bigger issue is that “terrorist” can be even more vague of a term than “infrastructure”. Another thing that (without getting hysteric, please!) everybody should recognize between the lines of that article is this:

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/drones-in-schools.jpg
<a href="https://www.theeducatoronline.com/k12/technology/infrastructure-and-equipment/schools-cuttingedge-drone-course-takes-off/242275" target="_blank">Cutting edge drone courses in schools are already a thing. SINCE (AT LEAST) 2017</a>


See what I mean? Sure, with any luck for the rest of us this may be a US-only problem. But what the picture above says is that drones may make school or mall shootings a thing of the past. The lonely, sociopathic nerd of the next decade may very well find both cooler and more effective to bomb his school with drones, instead of storming it with an assault rifle.

(added July, 2022: especially if and where smart laws like this find followers)

Drones, bringing MAD to every neighborhood /img/counter-drone.jpg
<a href="https://www.npr.org/2022/06/13/1104570419/ohio-dewine-guns-teachers" target="_blank">Hey, maybe those are american teachers, not italian soldiers</a>


The “curse” of DIY

Both the problems above are made more complicated by something that, if recent history is any teacher, may create more confusion for nobody’s benefit. Drones for “terrorism” can be Do-It-Yourself tech, just like untraceable guns 3D-printed at home: I really hope that those recommendations that my colleagues and I made six years ago for THAT problem will be read also by everybody thinking to “ban DIY drones”.

How do you block drone-based micro-attacks?

The Bulleting correctly point out that, if the goal is to protect any infrastructure of a country from automated attacks, possibly by tens or hundreds of drones together over wide areas, the only solution that could work in theory would be something like a “network of remotely-operated or autonomous counter-drone systems stationed at critical infrastructure sites, [that] would allow federal authorities to maintain control, while also allowing far more rapid response to drone events."

Of course, such a network would also be an excellent pretext for even more high-tech surveillance like this.

Obviously, the most effective solution is the most naive

Kids with drones, drones on bus stops… all in all, drone-based attacks could soon become so cheap and ubiquitous that the less unrealistic, only effective way to deal with them could be to make sure that nobody has reasons to use drones in that way.

Image sources: Wikipedia, Italian Army and N. Michaud, on Flickr