From the Blog

Introduction to Drones

Science Fiction is no longer fiction…

Drones appear to be everywhere these days. They are no longer a technology of Sci-Fi. In the UK alone, they can be seen being used in mainstream media, their footage appearing on social media platforms, or they are even seen being used by children in the park as a toy! Television and films nowadays have been captured using drones. Whether you are interested in using the technology or not, it is certainly not flying away any time soon…

This increase of both recreational and commercial drone usage in the UK means a need for police forces and law enforcement agencies to engage in the technology as users’ knowledge increases. Interaction with these devices – and their owners and operators – will continue to become common practice in the coming months and years. Is your organisation ready?

What is a UAV?

Whilst commonly referred to by the public and mainstream media as ‘drones’, the technology’s actual name is Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (SUAVs).

The term ‘drones’ was actually taken from the long-standing use of military drones but this is not necessarily the best term for today’s recreational and commercial devices, and often gives an impression that you need to literally be a rocket scientist to understand them. Luckily, this isn’t the case, and we at Blue Lights Digital (as part of our ongoing investigation support services and training) have noticed that drones are continually raised as a challenge with many questions surrounding them.

So, in true Blue Lights Digital fashion, we have been researching drones heavily to provide some answers. Let’s start at the beginning…


Classifications of UAVs

Despite the fact that UAVs are a relatively new commercial and recreational technology, already the sheer volume and range of UAVs available on the market can make it seem overwhelming to understand the different types of devices available.

UAVs can be summarised into 3 categories:
1. Recreational – Designed for use by amateurs, from enthusiasts to children. These tend to be lower priced.
2. Commercial – Designed to be used for commercial purposes. Usually have another payload, such as a camera for professional photography, which can therefore define their commercial purpose.
3. Bespoke – Engineered by the owner. Made of component parts that are purchased individually then put together. This is instead of purchasing an off-the-shelf system.


UAV Digital Footprints (or air prints)

Like all other digital devices, UAVs (and associated platforms) have inevitably resulted in the creation of a digital footprint.

Data is generated and stored. This data could be intentionally created by the user such as imagery or a registered address for the device or alternatively could be created as a by-product of the use of the UAV such as historical flight locations and usage logs. Both could offer significant opportunities as part of an investigation.  This data could give an investigation a wealth of knowledge about an owner or user’s deployment of a UAV from multiple data storage sources.

Our research has demonstrated that the storage and retention of data changes dramatically depending on the manufacturer and specification of the UAV in question. This can range from very little, if any, digital recovery opportunities available from low-end recreational devices, right up to large volumes of complex data that may be accessed from high-end recreational devices as well as commercial and bespoke UAV configurations.


Accessing and Analysing UAV Data

In addition to varying volumes of data, the location of this data can also differ significantly depending on the specification of the device and the chosen configuration of the user.

Our research and testing (to date) has shown that, when grounded in the planning phase before take-off and in the course of their flight, data created by UAVs can potentially be recovered from the following locations:
1. Onboard storage capacity
2. Removable storage devices
3. Linked mobile devices and applications
4. Ground station control systems
5. Linked cloud-based data platforms

Therefore, when considering data from UAVs, it is crucial that the principle of Digital Profiling is adopted. This principle should ensure that the wider technical profile and digital competency of the user is reviewed enabling an informed assessment to be made as to where the relevant data, relating to an enquiry, may be retained.


How can I learn more?

We have recently launched a number of dedicated drone response and drone forensic modules, exclusively available to our Blue Lights Discovery enterprise clients. To access more information about how Blue Lights Discovery can support your organisation, click here.

We now include a dedicated input on UAVs on a number of our leading Digital Investigation and Intelligence Training Courses. To discuss your individual or organisations training requirements then please contact us and we would be delighted to hear from you.


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