Drones have been a problem for prisons for years now, where they’re often used to smuggle contraband behind bars. But could they also get inmates out of prison by airlifting them over the walls? That’s one worry expressed by federal prison officers in a new report on the topic from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The report is essentially an overview of how federal prisons track and mitigate the threat posed by drones. Much of it is given over to complaints about the bureaucracy involved in reporting drone incidents, and the difficulty in identifying and implementing effective drone countermeasures. The overall finding is that drones are only going to become a greater problem for prisons in future, and that the government isn’t doing enough about it.
“We found that the BOP [Federal Bureau of Prisons] faces significant and growing challenges to protect its facilities from drone threat,” state the report’s authors. “Drones have been used to deliver contraband to inmates, but could also be used to surveil institutions, facilitate escape attempts, or transport explosives.”
Right now it seems drones are only really used for smuggling contraband. The report cites one incident in which a drone was recovered from a federal prison carrying a package containing “20 cell phones, 23 vials of injectable drugs, dozens of syringes, and multiple packages of tobacco, among other contraband items.” The BOP only began tracking drone incursions in 2018 and recorded 23 incidents that year. This increased to 57 incidents in 2019, but the report notes that this figure is likely an underestimate.
In the future, though, federal prison officers are worried drones could be put to other, more nefarious purposes. Officers cited in the report were concerned that commercial drones could be armed with explosives and used to attack them (a tactic used by some terrorist groups like ISIS) and that future drones could be used to enable inmates to escape from prison. (An aside in the report first spotted by journalist Brad Heath on Twitter.)
“BOP officials told us that future devices may even have payload capabilities that could allow for the lifting of an adult out of a prison,” says the report. “Given trends in both the industry and observed incidents involving drones at prisons, the threat posed by drones to BOP facilities will likely increase as drone technology continues to advance.”
Although the idea of using a drone to airlift someone out of prison sounds fantastical, it’s not actually impossible. Some drones are certainly capable of lifting human beings, and a number of enthusiasts have made their own DIY aircraft that do exactly that.
However, these sorts of payload capabilities aren’t cheap or accessible. Part of the reason drones are being used to smuggle contraband is that the equipment can be bought for a few hundred dollars. Creating a drone capable of carrying a human being, though, would cost much more than that and require a great deal of technical expertise. The drone would also be noisy — the equivalent of using a small helicopter for an escape. Anyone planning a breakout is probably going to look to more conventional methods first.
Drone airlifts aside, the DOJ is still stepping up its countermeasures. The report says the DOJ and BOP are “in the early stages of researching and evaluating a multitude of technologies and solutions offering both affirmative use and counterdrone capabilities.” As of February 2020, the BOP has been granted $5.2 million by the federal government to purchase drone “detection and mitigation systems,” but it says it wants more.
However, the report is also skeptical about the effectiveness of these tools. It notes that “many vendors of counter-drone technologies offer unproven capabilities or results that may only be achievable in a controlled environment.”
Homeland Security warns of a ‘critical’ security flaw in Windows servers
The security hole isn’t difficult to use. It takes “about three seconds in practice,” according to Secura.
Agencies have to install the patch no later than September 21st.
While the alert is clearly aimed at federal officials, it also serves as a warning for private firms that depend on Windows servers and Active Directory. If an intruder successfully launches this exploit, they’ll effectively have control of the network. They could spread malware, steal data or otherwise cause havoc. Some companies have already suffered major disruptions due to malware this year, and that trend could continue if they don’t protect themselves against flaws like Zerologon in a timely fashion.
TikTok and WeChat both managed to avoid their Sunday bans
On Friday, it looked like the US was ready to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat, two popular China-based apps that the Trump administration warned posed security threats to American users. The Commerce Department issued an order that would have prohibited new downloads as of Sunday. And on Saturday WeChat in particular saw a sharp uptick in new installs in the US, according to analytics platform Sensor Tower, with an 800 percent week-over-week increase.
But as of Sunday afternoon, each has received a reprieve from a US ban, at least temporarily. President Trump said Saturday he had given a deal between TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart his “blessing,” prompting a one-week delay from the Commerce Department on TikTok’s ban. And a judge in California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the administration’s WeChat ban.
The TikTok deal appears to be a far cry from the Trump administration’s original demand for a full sale of TikTok’s US operations. Oracle becomes a “trusted tech partner,” and will host all US user data, securing “associated computer systems.” Both Oracle and Walmart will take part in a TikTok Global pre-IPO financing round in which they can take up to a 20 percent cumulative stake in the new company, TikTok Global, according to TikTok.
The deal has yet to be finalized, and some of the details remained a bit fuzzy as of Sunday morning. While all parties said the new company would be headquartered in the US and bring 25,000 jobs, the president’s statement that the deal included a $5 billion donation toward US education seemed a surprise to TikTok parent company ByteDance. And of course, the Chinese government must still sign off on any agreement. But for now, the Commerce Department has delayed any TikTok ban until September 27th.
For WeChat, the future in the US is even more uncertain. Judge Laurel Beeler wrote in her order that an August lawsuit by a group of WeChat users showed “serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.” Beeler wrote that the plaintiffs’ “evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat.”
Beeler added that while the US government had identified “significant” threats to national security, there was “scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”
The Commerce Department had not commented on Judge Beeler’s order as of Sunday afternoon.
Bird releases more affordable, foldable Air electric scooter for $599
If the premium Bird One is overkill for your transportation needs, Bird has a more reasonably priced electric scooter in store. The mobility company has released a custom-made Bird Air e-scooter that offers just a few frills for a not-too-outlandish $599. The foldable design is the clear selling point and makes sense for city commutes, but it also boasts “never-flat” tires and an aluminum frame that’s reportedly tough enough to hold up under everyday use.
You can expect a moderate 16MPH top speed and up to 16 miles of range. It’s not as long-lasting as the 25-mile One, then, but it should cover a downtown trip.
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