PiNcH: An effective, efficient, and robust solution to drone detection via network traffic analysis

Savio Sciancalepore, Omar Adel Ibrahim, Gabriele Oligeri, Roberto Di Pietro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We propose Picking a Needle in a Haystack (PiNcH), a methodology to detect the presence of a drone, its current status, and its movements by leveraging just the communication traffic exchanged between the drone and its Remote Controller (RC). PiNcH is built applying standard classification algorithms to the eavesdropped traffic, analyzing features such as packets inter-arrival time and size. PiNcH is fully passive and it requires just cheap and general-purpose hardware. To evaluate the effectiveness of our solution, we collected real communication traces originated by a drone running the widespread ArduCopter open-source firmware, currently mounted on-board of a wide range (30+) of commercial amateur drones. Then, we tested our solution against different publicly available wireless traces. The results prove that PiNcH can efficiently and effectively: (i) identify the presence of the drone in several heterogeneous scenarios; (ii) identify the current state of a powered-on drone, i.e., flying or lying on the ground; (iii) discriminate the movements of the drone; and, finally, (iv) enjoy a reduced upper bound on the time required to identify a drone with the requested level of assurance. The effectiveness of PiNcH has been also evaluated in the presence of both heavy packet loss and evasion attacks. In this latter case, the adversary modifies on purpose the profile of the traffic of the drone-RC link to avoid the detection. In both the cited cases, PiNcH continues enjoying a remarkable performance. Further, the comparison against state of the art solution confirms the superior performance of PiNcH in several scenarios. Note that all the drone-controller generated data traces have been released as open-source, to allow replicability and foster follow-up. Finally, the quality and viability of our solution, do prove that network traffic analysis can be successfully adopted for drone identification and status discrimination, and pave the way for future research in the area.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalComputer Networks
StatePublished - Feb 26 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-09-20

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications


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