Impact of Facebook’s Drone on Internet Access and Cybersecurity


A special to USLAW NETWORK and USLAW DigiKnow

By Karen Painter Randall, Connell Foley LLP, Roseland, New Jersey

Facebook recently announced that it designed and built a high-altitude, solar-powered drone in 14 months, which it plans to test later this year. The drone, named Aquila, is part of, Facebook’s plan to extend Web access to what it estimates are 1.1 billion to 2.8 billion people without access to same today.

Like Google, Facebook is experimenting with delivering Internet access to people unlikely to be served by traditional landlines or cellular networks. Aquila, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs only as much as a car, will be able to fly for three months without landing. It will project a laser that can transmit data to other aircrafts, and a signal that will be received by small towers and dishes on the ground within 50 kilometers. The antennas will then convert the signal into Wi-Fi or 4G networks. The drone will fly at 60,000 to 90,000 feet during the day, putting it above commercial airplanes and conventional weather patterns. At night, when its batteries are not being charged by the sun, Aquila will fly lower to save energy. According to Facebook, it can rotate its drones every three months with a near-instantaneous handoff.

Facebook is currently testing its laser system in California. It said its prototype can deliver 10 gigabits of data a second, much faster than what is considered state-of-the-art in the industry. The network of drones is also being designed for rural areas, where the location and intensity of demand can shift suddenly.

Practically all drones have computers and onboard logic, and for the most part are communicating with a control system through a communications channel. This makes them susceptible to a cyber-attack, but also creates the opportunity for a defensible infrastructure, both internally and externally to the device. This requires a combination of existing and new techniques with emerging technology to provide a defense against drone threats, both accidental and intentional. Defense contractors and technology companies alike are developing cybersecurity solutions to address the aforementioned challenges. One approach that has been developed creates a “cyber fence” that employs the use of cyber defense techniques found on traditional IT networks, except it uses those techniques against platforms such as drones. This cyber fence can be integrated into other physical, electronic, and cyber defense mechanisms to offer full protection against this threat.

The development of a drone by Facebook demonstrates that its use is likely to become more and more prevalent. As a result, new bodies of laws and regulations are likely to be developed with regard to this new technology, as well as to ensure proper protections are implemented to prevent a cyberattack.

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