US government report details first-ever drone attack on energy grid

Electrical substation

A REPORT ISSUED BY the United States government last month provides details of what is thought to be the first known attack on the country’s energy infrastructure by an unmanned aircraft system. The report appears in a Joint Intelligence Bulletin (JIB) dated October 28, 2021. The JIB is a collaborative intelligence product of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center.

The report documents an apparent drone attack that took place on July 16, 2020. The target of the attack was an electrical substation in the state of Pennsylvania. The document does not provide details about the geographic location of the attack, nor does it identify the substation that was targeted. It does, however, give details about the type of commercial drone that was used, which it identifies as a Chinese-built DJI Mavic 2. The DJI Mavic 2 is a compact quadcopter drone, which is popular among aerial photography enthusiasts in the United States. It costs between $1,300 and $4,450, depending on its design and amount of features.

The specific device used in the attack in Pennsylvania had been modified by its operator, most likely in order to cause a short circuit and damage the distribution lines or transformers it came in contact with. The device had a thick copper wire hanging from its body, which was attached with nylon cords. Additionally, the perpetrator of the attack had taken steps to anonymize the device, be removing its quality control markings and other identifying information from it. The camera and internal memory card, which are standard technical features of DJI Mavic 2 drones, had also been removed, according to the report. As a result, the operator of the device has not been identified.

The report concludes that illicit [drone] activity is expected “to increase over energy sector and other critical infrastructure facilities as use of these systems in the United States continues to expand”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2021 | Permalink

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