Drone cracks WiFi from on high

The WiFi Aerial Surveillance Platform, or WASP for short, is an autonomous drone aircraft that sniffs out WiFi networks. But it packs a much larger punch than that. Built into this US Army surplus target drone you’ll find an ITX form-factor computer with a Via C7 500 MHz processor that is running Backtrack 4, the popular penetration testing Linux suite. But what if you want to do some real heavy lifting that the onboard PC can’t handle quickly? They’ve thought of that too. There’s an integrated 3G modem which allows for control over the Internet and facilitates the outsourcing of load-intensive operations to the cloud. It’s not shooting fireworks from the wings, but this payload has the potential to cause way more trouble.

[Thanks Spore]


  1. Nirav says:

    all I have to say is..WTF..OMG! that has to be the most hardcore hardware project I’ve seen in months.

  2. Dosbomber says:

    Time to start investing in “surplus” SAM equipment…

  3. Brad Hein says:


  4. sunjester says:

    running bt4… really… maybe make a nicer choice.

  5. Why on earth would they use backtrack? The weak processor would struggle to run it properly. It’s bloated and uses the processors intensive KDE.

    If they goto the effort to build this thing they should have at least built linux from the ground up to run on it. I wouldn’t take long at all but would ensure speed and a longer battery life.

  6. brsnow says:

    Wow, give new meaning and realness to Skynet…………judgment day is here.

  7. Velifer says:

    Ya know guys, this is a ton of work. Don’t you know that the library has free internet you can use?


  8. Blaughw says:

    Speaking of payload and penetration testing, Flash photo viewer on the homepage sounds like a no-go for me.

    These guys were apparently at Defcon, there’s a moderately long interview on hak5.org on their Defcon ep. Deets abound.

  9. Nice, I recommend the parallax propeller for actually flying the thing (multicore helps a lot for that sort of thing). Note the upload date :P

  10. Please fly this little sucker over my house [ 47.590107,-122.385872 ]

    I promise to put the video of me shooting it out of the sky on YouTube!

  11. Stan says:

    This is an unbelievable build that must have took a lot of knowhow from a lot of different fields to make work successfully,
    @Matthew Phillips: Build your own. Then talk.

  12. nave.notnilc says:

    30-45 minutes isn’t that long of a flight time for an autonomous vehicle…

  13. John says:

    Where can one buy a “US Army surplus target drone”?

  14. >US Army surplus target drone

    Talk about your defense reutilization. This sure beats making bookends out of a perfectly good used Hummer that they cut in half and sold as scrap.

    Although I am worried because sometimes there’s all kinds of restrictions on what you can do with and where you may export military surplus. I know that TIG welding M-16 lower receivers into semi-auto only AR-15 lower receivers is right out.

  15. Lion XL says:

    Can we just applaud the guys for making it happen, I know most of you have preferences for this that or the third, but really…are you mad because you didnt do it first? Flying an ITX motherboard around , running is a pretty damn good project if you ask me. Maybe not the pinnacle of drone computing, for two guys with a limited budget, I think it rocks!!!

  16. Radio Guy says:

    Doing this violates so many FCC rules it’s not funny.

  17. strider_mt2k says:

    Incredibly cool project.

    Looks like a very stable flyer.

  18. vonskippy says:

    Does the army REALLY use a 4′ wingspan, balsa and monokote RC plane as a target drone?

  19. sariel says:

    @Radio Guy
    now it just needs a mobile fm transceiver for that floating fortress of radio freedom.

  20. Nick Petty says:

    I was just thinking about doing this with a blimp. :/

  21. deathventure says:

    @Matthew Phillips

    You know there’s a little thing with linux, the fact you don’t need a desktop environment to run it. Who says he’s got KDE running on it?

  22. Srek says:

    Yes their webpage is crap so as the external video site they use.
    I doubt they have kde running in that bt. It must be only used for running kismet and storing all data on an ssd.
    Considering that the US airforce spends millions on crap drones they did a good job.
    Even tho this cannot get close to buildings so what it will mostly catch is amplified signals from antennas and towers not AP signals in buildings.

  23. RedQueen says:

    Hey guys, thanks for the compliments. Glad we could spark some interest.

    Our goal wasn’t to reinvent the wheel with this, or roll our own anything. We had limited time, money and energy and set the goal to be to use off-the-shelf everything. It’s just proof of concept. We know it can be done better…. go do it!


    Its military designation was FQM-117B. Our models were build in Beltsville MD in the mid 80’s. Its a quasi-scale representation of a Mig 27 designed to train anti-aircraft gunnery crews. Here’s some good info on it:


    Anyways, thanks again for the kind words.. we hope you guys have as much fun as we did. Be safe!!!

  24. vaporland says:

    this guy’s gonna get a visit from the NSA….

  25. Anon says:

    @Jerry Whiting… nice apartment building

  26. sM10sM20 says:

    @sunjester & @ Matthew Phillips

    deathventure – Beat me to it. Simply don’t start the desktop environment, aka don’t type “startx” in terminal… that easy…

    Using anything other than BackTrack4 would leave me very confused.

  27. Firestorm says:

    I did’t red the entire article Yet.
    Cus im still enjoying the title :D i luv it

  28. scrappylaptop says:

    RE: backtrack vs processors intensive KDE.
    (9:29 by Matthew Phillips)

    They’re called runlevels, you might want to check them out. Assuming they included all of the GUI libraries (they don’t weigh much), that is. See, you leave the bloat in for easy dev and troubleshooting and just don’t load it for normal running. I’ve got quite a few embedded boxes like that, makes them a lot easier and convenient to run & adjust in the field. And yes, there is also that fun challenge of trying to bum a system down the as minimum as possible but in this case there’s no shortage of resources.

  29. Afterm4th says:

    I was just thinking about doing this with a blimp. :/

    ^^^ it was done at defcon 16. They did a passive sniff with a weather balloon. Got pretty much all of Vegas.

    I was at the con and seen their vid clips. They were not suposed to do it (didnt have FCC and the city of vegas said they wern’t aloud to do it even tho they were out of regular air space etc…) but they did it anyways and it rocked.

  30. @anon:
    a.) It’s a condo not an apt
    b.) the white square at the lat/long is my web cam http://www.JetCityOrange.com/Seattle/Space-Needle/

    next up: a BlinkM MaxM lighthouse if not the TweetM!

  31. doc oct says:

    I can hardly commend these guys on their web design. Images locked up in a horrible flash slideshow, the specifications are in a powerpoint, fairly sparse and un-detailed layout all around.

    I was a little surprised to see the prop runs on electric. I imagine that’s the reason for the relatively short run time. You’ve got your motor contending with the same limited resources that your computer board is using. I wonder how much longer it might be if it was a gas engine.

    That said, I’d love to stick a ham radio capable of crossband repeat into one of these things. That’d be a hell of a special events station.

  32. moo says:

    The reason they used bt4 is prolly because its so easy to use and u don’t have to build it from scratch and it supports a lot of hardware. Oh and u can run bt4 without kde.

  33. Nitori says:

    I had a very similar idea a few years back but with a helicopter and an arm based SBC such as a gumstix.

  34. barry99705 says:

    @Radio Guy
    Which FCC rules would that be?

  35. cantido says:


    >They’re called runlevels,

    You’re assuming a SysV style init.. Isn’t backtrack based on Ubuntu which uses an event based init setup?

  36. It’s running Backtrack 4!! How sexy is that?! Awesome project, awesome article! I have actually thought of something like this while messing with my nitro planes but I didn’t know where I would begin to implement it. This is seriously friggin’ awesome!

  37. lwatcdr says:

    @doc oct Electric is very popular these days in RC. It is clean and not to loud.
    I would be tempted to try this with say a gummstix. It is much smaller than an mini ITX and they make them with both bluetooth and Wifi.
    You also have a camera interface so you could include a camera with it.
    Also another good platform for this might be this airplane


    It has a huge wing and flys very slow.

  38. Roberto says:

    Talk about cloud computing! ;)

    I don’t know if the FCC or the FAA will knock on their doors first.

  39. nubie says:

    Very cool, my intro to computer science teacher at the local college was a temp; a recent State U grad and he was quite into hacking ;)

    His Wifi was in the basement pointed at the sky so that no signal was available outside his house to be hacked into, or so he thought.

    This little guy could probably do the trick :D

  40. barry99705 says:

    @ Roberto

    Why would either “come knocking on their doors”?

  41. Not Smart says:

    Neato. I was thinking of taking my old ar430w and putting openwrt on it and then sending it up in a non autonomous helicopter.

  42. asheets says:

    @barry99705 — you are correct, sir (I’m assuming, “sir”). If there is a law against building a radio receiver and sticking it in a toy airplane, I’d love to hear it…

  43. chiefcrash says:

    @cantido: I believe backtrack is based on SLAX, which in turn is based on Slackware…

  44. moo says:

    @chiefcrash: i belive bt3 was based on slax but in bt4 they moved away from slax to make it more of a real os.

  45. NatureTM says:

    Wow, I love this thing! I think my new nerd-fantasy is to hack this thing or its remote control server mid-flight, and have it land in a park where I will be sitting on a bench with my laptop, hahaha.

    Ironically, I hope they though of security when they coded it.

  46. cantido says:


    Apparently 4+ is based on Debian .. snip snip from wikipedia;

    February 11, 2009 BackTrack 4 first beta release. (It’s now based on Debian)

    We still have a SysV style init, but starting up daemons is parallelised to some degree..

  47. coolmike8789 says:

    Why is it tagged “penetration”?!

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