The drone hacking community has reacted angrily to one pilot who flew within 100 meters of an airliner last week.
On Thursday, 21-year-old Niv Stobenzki uploaded a video to YouTube of a passenger jet landing at Israel’s Sde Dov Airport, filmed from his DJI Mavic Pro.
“Mavic Pro and airport about half mile away, crazy shot and little dangers but that’s it, filming airplanes from about 90ft distance from the drone enjoy,” Stobenzki explained in the video’s description. Israeli news site Israel Today then reported that Stobenzki had been arrested, questioned, and placed under house arrest for five days while his laptop and mobile phone were confiscated.
By his own admission in the video’s description, and through analysis conducted by other drone pilots, it’s clear that Stobenzki was flying within what should have been a no-fly zone. I also used Google Maps to crosscheck the location of the drone when it was in flight, and was able to confirm using DJI’s own no-fly zone database that it was indeed in restricted airspace. Whilst we cannot confirm if he hacked his drone or what methods he was using to circumvent the no-fly zone, drone hackers are keen to distance themselves from Stobenzki’s dangerous actions.
“Ruining the hobby for everyone,” wrote one user in a Slack channel dedicated to reverse engineering DJI’s firmware. “Fuck him!” said another.
Similar comments were posted by YouTube and Facebook users underneath the video, while pilots in a Facebook group dedicated to circumventing DJI’s no-fly zones condemned Stobenzki’s flying.
A screenshot from a DJI hacking Facebook group. Image: Ben Sullivan.
DJI implements GPS-based geofencing software on its drones that prevents pilots from flying into unauthorized airspaces. But earlier in July, collective efforts to reverse engineer DJI’s software gained momentum as DIY drone tinkerers on YouTube, Facebook, drone forums, and Slack groups published instructions for altering the firmware on DJI’s drones, allowing pilots to fly into no-fly zones.
“The community ate his ass up! Crowd sourced doxxing & police notification!” Kevin Finisterre, who developed an exploit to help pilots workaround DJI’s limitations, told me, referring to numerous comments from other pilots who tagged Israeli authorities in the video.
“What an idiot. I see in the comments that several people have downloaded his video, found his Facebook and reported him to the aviation authority, YouTube and the airport already!” said another Slack user. “I think this is the most effective way to ‘police’ the idiots. The actual community will take action against these fools.”
There a plenty of safe ways and legitimate reasons to fly a drone in one of DJI’s no-fly zones, but noble intentions or not, the drone hacking community will have to reckon with the fact that, if there is a drone-plane incident, their hobby will likely be blamed.
In statement to media, DJI said, “We stand ready to assist national aviation authorities as they investigate a recent wave of photos and videos showing clear and intentional lawbreaking in ways that pose real danger to manned air traffic.” DJI told Motherboard on Tuesday it had nothing else to add to the matter.
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