Instant detection enabled through the Magenta Drone Defense Shield helps customers gain time in fending off multicopter.
Drone defense

“The coast is clear.”

Drones are a boom industry. And not just for commercial applications, either. Their popularity among economic spies is soaring. To counter this sinister new development, Deutsche Telekom developed the Magenta Drone Defense Shield with radio, audio, video and radar technology in less than 18 months. It puts a quick stop to criminal pilots’ high-flying plans. Often within seconds.
Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Stefan Hobmaier
​​​​​​​Cologne, May 17, 11:44 am. The scene: the parking lot of a fast food restaurant on Dürener Straße, a narrow road snaking through an industrial district. Unlike the other lunchtime guests, one visitor parks away from the entrance. On a parking space hidden from view, far removed from the restaurant’s security cameras. In one fluid motion, he flips open the trunk with his left hand and sets down a drone on the pavement with his right. He turns on the remote control and waits for the soft beeping to subside as a wireless connection is established. Then, the aircraft takes off. As cars drive into and out of the restaurant parking lot, not a single person notices the buzzing of the rotors, initially silent and only spiking to audible levels during rapid accelerations. 
This scenario is a typical depiction, at least technically speaking, for how millions of multicopters take off worldwide every day. Novices can quickly learn how to start and fly these devices for a multitude of uses: from taking aerial pictures of a wedding to capturing breathtaking scenery for an amateur photographer’s calendar. In professional hands, they may survey land for the local register of deeds or scan barcodes in enormous high-bay warehouses, as auto component supplier Magna does during physical inventories. PwC estimates that the market for integrating drone technology into established business models will be worth USD 127 billion by 2025 (see "Drones as pilots and divers"). And that’s just in manufacturing. This estimate does not, however, include new opportunities emerging in unsavory businesses ranging from the dubious to the downright criminal.
The Magenta Drone Defense Shield can determine the remote control’s location
As soon as the pilot establishes a wireless connection to the drone, the Magenta Drone Defense Shield can determine the remote control’s location.
May 17, 11:45 am. Where is the drone headed? What’s it looking for? What equipment is it carrying? Who’s piloting it? What pictures or videos is it sending back to its pilot? All these questions fly through Frank Roby’s head. He needs answers – fast. Sitting only a few minutes’ walk from the fast food restaurant, the security chief of a local high-tech manufacturing firm is painfully aware that senior management is about to meet three floors above him. And he was hired a long time ago to make sure nothing interferes with important conferences like the one for which a parade of limousines is about to roll up to the front door. Roby learned about the incoming drone through new technology that was added to the company’s control center only a few weeks ago. Luckily, Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta Drone Defense Shield can identify pilots preparing to launch a drone long before the device takes off. It can pinpoint the exact location of the remote control the moment it starts communicating with the aircraft, thereby indicating the pilot’s position. This sophisticated technology is installed on top of the corporate headquarters in Marsdorf, a suburb of Cologne. Perched twelve meters above the roof, the system protects the company’s employees, processes and intellectual property and forms an indispensable element of the security architecture that Roby recently urged management to set up. The array of drone trackers, frequency scanners, high-sensitivity microphones and radar technology above his head are an investment that will pay for itself in the next few minutes. After all, the information that drones can collect is often worth millions to the criminals behind the pilots.
“Instant detection helps customers gain valuable time in fending off drones.”
Patrick Köhler, Innovation Manager T-Systems
“You can’t respond to an airborne threat without detecting it accurately and reliably,” explained Markus Piendl, the product manager for Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta Drone Defense Shield. Piendl and his team developed the solution in secret with help from the T-Systems Innovation Center (see "Space to think, tinker and create"). During this 18-month period, they rigorously and objectively tested hardware from 25 international providers to determine its detection and defense capabilities. “Our goal,” said Piendl, who is regularly contacted by domestic and international agencies about security technology, “was to provide a fully enclosed defense shield. High-performance visualization tracks attack processes in real time in an intuitive, user-friendly way. The system protects all kinds of properties from drone attacks using optical, acoustical, radio or radar sensors.” User-friendly management software combines data supplied by different makes of sensors into one easy-to-understand overview. Often, organizations or VIPs don’t learn that they’ve been spied on until the pictures are published. A dream come true for every paparazzo, and a nightmare for at-risk individuals – and corporate security officers worldwide. Even if the drones turn out to have been snooping on people, not infrastructure.
May 17, 11:47 am. The last question Roby can answer quickly. His system has a central database for classifying and potentially identifying aircraft. Each drone has specific characteristics that special software can link together and store in a database as a distinctive signature, a bit like drone DNA. “By regularly updating the software, customers can reliably detect new drones right away and gain valuable time,” explained Innovation Manager Patrick Köhler from the T-Systems Innovation Center in Munich. “That way, they know what’s headed their way long before they can even see the drone.”
Commercial drones run the gamut from gnats to giants. The “Black Hornet,” an 0.63-ounze miniature surveillance monster from Norway, slips effortlessly through barely open windows while the Chinese-made Wing Loong 1 rivals manned aircraft with its mighty 45-feet wingspan. Payloads can be as benign as emergency assistance for earthquake victims or rapid deliveries of medicines to North Sea islands – or as lethal as explosives and bombs headed for a university campus or a packed sports stadium. And that’s exactly the problem.
May 17, 11:49 am. It’s been five minutes since Roby learned that the drone, now visible, is a DJI Phantom, a popular workhorse quadcopter. Drones are basically just flying computers, equipped with sensors. But what does this one want? The clock is ticking. At the top of the agenda for today’s meeting: key strategy issues and highly sensitive strategic investment decisions. Visibly agitated, a staff unit manager sprints through Roby’s door, demanding to “know what’s going on out there.” He’s spotted the drone hovering above the driveway, too.
The security chief has an inkling of what the drone pilot may want. A DJI Phantom can be equipped with a directional or laser microphone to eavesdrop on every word in a private conversation. Some of these flying spies transmit their data streams to a nearby ground control station immediately or with a slight delay. Their more sinister brethren upload their “loot” to YouTube right away. Luckily, the aircraft bearing down on Roby normally comes with nothing more than a camera. Roby glances down at his monitor, and realizes he was right. He’s following what the shoebox-sized copter can “see” and transmit over an unencrypted channel. It’s waiting. With three short words, “Find the pilot,” Roby tells the manager which intervention program to execute. Security team members will drive to the pilot’s exact location, guided by the information provided by the sensors based on RF.
The monitor “reveals” in real time what a drone is recording.
The monitor “reveals” in real time what a drone is recording with its camera or potentially transmitting to its ground control station in unencrypted form.
Deutsche Flugsicherung, Germany’s air traffic control organization, estimates there are 400,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in use in Germany. Drone use has exploded in recent years, and it’s not hard to see why: they’re easy to operate, cover relatively long distances and have the technical ability to take off from almost anywhere. Though commercially used in logistics (see “Drones as pilots and divers”), film, surveying, agriculture, mining and geology, most multicopters are still flown by hobbyists. The labor market is catching up, though. UAV manufacturing and operation is now a respectable industry. And more and more companies are looking for pilots licensed to operate UAVs. In the US alone, drones are forecast to create up to 100,000 jobs in the next eight years. The future looks equally sunny to Christian Janke from the European Aviation Security Center (EASC): “Drone technology has the potential to add tremendous value in innovative business models and economically viable application scenarios.” However, “the vast majority of drones” implies that some machines don’t meet these criteria.
As a drone flies up to an office window covered with privacy film, all the onboard camera can see is the drone’s reflection.
Drone selfie. As a drone flies up to an office window covered with privacy film, all the onboard camera can see is the drone’s reflection.
May 17, 11:51 am. One item in Roby’s job description has top priority today: preventing the drone – now hovering visibly above the company grounds and announced by the alarm given by the Magenta Drone Defense Shield – from seeing who will be getting out of a car less than a minute from now. It’s someone whom management will be extremely pleased to see – even though they’re not on the senior management team yet.
As always, every detail of the meeting attendees’ arrival has been carefully orchestrated. The guest at today’s meeting will be whisked into the underground garage by a chauffeur and dropped off right at the executive elevator. From here, the elevator will take the guest straight to the conference room, which was rigorously inspected by a team of countersurveillance consultants (see “Toolkit of evil”). Once declared clear of cameras, wiretaps and similar devices, the room was sealed with a label that was removed only a few minutes ago.
Meanwhile, the drone detection software launches a preset intervention plan in the security management system. The building’s emergency power generators go into standby; the dampers in the ventilation system automatically shut; the air-conditioning unit switches to recirculation mode; and all the blinds in the building close. Even the conference room’s panoramic window is shuttered due to the “threat potential,” as Roby explains to the meeting attendees. His worry: drones could use laser technology to capture sound waves reverberating against unprotected window panes. With the right software, the waves could be converted to clear speech in no time. 
Business always goes hand in hand with white collar crime. As an independent research center for European aviation security located southwest of Berlin, EASC lists three potential areas of drone misuse: personal (trespassing and privacy), commercial (industrial espionage) and criminal (drugs or weapons smuggling or the introduction of items into high-security areas for terrorism or other purposes).
“The more sophisticated the technology gets, the more options it opens up for criminals,” said Jörg Lamprecht from Dedrone, a drone security company. “Every day, drones become more autonomous and fly longer and farther than ever before. They carry heavier and heavier payloads and can even operate in swarms.”
Markus Piendl, Produktmanager Magenta Drohnenschutzschild bei T-Systems
“Detecting the drone is the bare minimum. The real trick is finding the pilot.”
Markus Piendl, T-Systems Product Manager Magenta Drone Defense Shield
May 17, 11:52 am. If the advanced technology perched on our Marsdorf rooftop could be said to have an “engine,” it would be the drone trackers, RF sensors and management software supplied by Dedrone, the Kassel-based start-up that Lamprecht founded. The devices are mounted on roofs or facades. Customers can easily configure the sensors in an intuitive browser-based user interface and then monitor the protected area in real time. If a drone is spotted, the system notifies security personnel immediately. People like Roby, for example. Pretty soon, two people from his team will personally “greet” the drone pilot who has been controlling their unwanted aerial guest.
“Detecting the drone is the bare minimum. The real trick is finding the pilot. Only then can you really tackle the problem and the individuals behind it,” said Piendl. The next steps are simple: personal contact, police, criminal charges. Subject to further action.
Lawmakers have set tight limits on private industry’s use of jammers, i.e. electronic devices that disrupt communications between the drone and its remote control. They are generally reserved for government use only. And not just in Germany, either. Since that forces companies and their security teams to take unconventional measures and avoid jammers in almost all cases, firms such as Magna believe there is an “urgent need for legislators to take action” (see „CHRO-Talk with Magna International“) . Deutsche Telekom has already requested exemptions for protecting particularly sensitive facilities.
May 17, 11:59 am. As the police arrive at the fast food restaurant, Roby scans his database for the drone’s MAC address. He quickly discovers that the drone had flown near his building multiple times in recent days. Clearly, the pilot had practiced today’s flight and spied on the property. Roby prepares to download the digital evidence and hand it over to the criminal investigators. Later, the police learn that the pilot in the parking lot was a hired gun. That’s no surprise when pilot-for-hire websites like FairFleet, Airdolly or drohnen.pro101s are a dime a dozen. Life is about to get difficult for the pilot’s client, who paid with a credit card. Roby, for his part, breathes a sigh of relief. In one minute, the big meeting will start right on time. At long last, the coast is clear.