EXCLUSIVE: Israeli technology can hack, take control and stop drone swarm

D-Fend has won rounds of several major contracts in the United States.

D-Fend  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
All three drones started to bear down on our location. One of them was capable of providing intelligence and providing a minor threat, while the other two large ones were capable of traveling dozens of kilometers and carrying and delivering a heavy 12-kilogram payload of explosive materials.
They made their way from 500 meters to 400 m. to what was defined as the “blue zone” at around 250 m. – an intermediate threat distance that appeared on the monitor in front of us showing the drones’ trajectory.
Throughout the three drones’ simultaneous progress toward their “target” (The Jerusalem Post reporter and other monitors of the drone swarm attack exercise), D-Fend’s anti-drone tracking and cyber software was identifying them – their height, capabilities and progress.
Finally, when they entered the “orange danger zone,” the Post watched as D-Fend’s hacking powers kicked in.
Two of the drones were each hacked and under D-Fend’s control within a stunning three seconds flat.
A third drone had a “delay” – due to its more complex frequency and potential urban situations that cause interference, it took 10 seconds.
Illustrative image showing different aspects of controlling the anti-drone technology (D-Fend)Illustrative image showing different aspects of controlling the anti-drone technology (D-Fend)
A bit put off from “the delay” – if one can call 10 seconds a delay – they acknowledged that with the hardest communication codes to crack in the worst real-world layout with maximum interference, it might take as “long” as 20 seconds.
Following the drones being taken over, the Post watched the screen of the drone pilots go blank, completely losing any sign or data on where their attack machines had disappeared.
All three drones were led by the hackers along a preset flight path to avoid numerous nearby buildings in the complex urban setting, aimed at landing in an empty parking lot, harmlessly and without causing any disturbance.
In those three to 20 seconds, D-Fend’s autonomous software-defined radio (SDR) technology differentiates friendly and hostile drones at distances of over three km.
The range is based on previous reports, as D-Fend did not want to commit to a specific range during the meeting, though there were clear implications that the range was substantially beyond three km.
Once the type of communication link between the drone and its operator is identified, the system takes over.
What was remarkable about this anti-drone demonstration was not that a drone could be hacked.
The technology for hacking drones started to expand from 2017-2019 in Israel and elsewhere, as countries such as Iran and terrorist groups including ISIS started to acquire and use them more often.
D-Fend has won rounds of several major contracts in the United States, and its unique radio-frequency cyber solution is actively deployed by dozens of top agencies there, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice.
It has hundreds of deployments on four continents and has tripled its staff in the past year to more than 130 highly trained professionals.
Different platforms for controlling the drones. (D-FEND)Different platforms for controlling the drones. (D-FEND)
But as impressive as these statistics are, what was more remarkable about the demonstration was that D-Fend’s technology was able to hack multiple drones at the same time.
In fact, as the Post is now reporting for the first time, D-Fend CEO and chairman Zohar Halachmi revealed that the technology has already successfully hacked more than 10 drones that were part of drone swarm attacks at least twice in real-world situations.
In other words, preventing a drone swarm attack – the holy grail of anti-drone technology once thought years away – has already been achieved, and not just during a demonstration.
“We are dealing with swarms right now…we know how to deal with it,” said Halachmi. “Our systems are capable, embedded, tested and proven. Some of our locations have faced this.”
Halachmi implied that the number of drones D-Fend’s systems could hack simultaneously could be even higher, but he wanted to maintain some secrecy about maximum capabilities for national security reasons.
For similar reasons, Halachmi said he could not give details about the exact locations and countries that had used D-Fend to hack attacking drone swarms. But, he playfully added, “sometimes we get updates on these cases” from satisfied clients.
When one considers the geostrategic implications of Iran’s September 2019 drone swarm devastation of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and numerous drone probes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others threatening Israel, the implications of needing to defend against a drone swarm attack are clear.
Besides the general idea of defending against drone swarm attacks, some of D-Fend’s solutions are highly specific.
“Airports have specific needs, not just antennas” for hacking, Halachmi said. “You need to avoid interrupting any other
communications, so we use a mix of long-range beams, aircraft corridors, high-altitude equipment [which could be placed on top of a control tower or terminal building]. Some airports also use vehicle deployments and command and control management technology.”
He described and presented pictures of anti-drone “bubbles” around the main physical structures of an airport running in parallel to long-range laser-style beams, with each lane for each runway requiring its own beam.
Clients including some of the largest international airports may use as many as 10-15 D-Fend units mixed between mobile and high-altitude antennas, while smaller airports may use fewer and a simpler mix.
D-Fend expanded in airports across the globe at a whole new level in 2020, Halachmi said.
D-Fend also trains its operators based on their specific complexities, whether it be urban issues, airport issues, border issues or prison issues, regardless of rain, snow or sea-based challenges.
Even after a client is taught the technology, the D-Fend training personnel have substantial experience to explain nuances about why a hacked drone or aspects of the anti-drone technology might vary regarding different distances and rates of speed.
After all of these optimistic developments – and Halachmi does believe that especially technologically advanced countries have made significant progress in recent years – it all still falls short.
“Nobody is close to really defending themselves, and there are big differences between some countries who started already, while others didn’t,” he said.
In terms of defending enormous and exposed borders, whether the US, Israel or other countries, the impression he gave was that given scarce resources, most must gamble with mobile anti-drone units to cover wide areas with the hope that the enemy will not figure out when a specific area might temporarily be unguarded.
D-Fend is far from the only company in the bursting anti-drone field.
SmartShooter’s SMASH technology, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Drone Dome and others both have various capabilities for jamming, shooting down or destroying drones.
Skylock, ORAD and some others also have some technologies with some similarities to D-Fend’s “clean” handling of drones by taking control.
But D-Fend would say that their technology – whether defending against drone swarms or other hard cases – is the most widely used and proven in the field.
Having former FAA head Michael Huerta join D-Fend’s advisory board in 2020 was a further sign of that success, Halachmi said.
In an era when any terrorist can use $750 or $1,500 to buy an attack system like a drone, which can savage a country that is only defended by radar (drones can fly below radar detection capabilities), only the most robust and constantly updated anti-drone defense will be sufficient.