4 ways to hide from drone surveillance

Tips & tricks
6 mins
A drone surrounded by a circle with a line through it.

Tomatoes. They’re juicy, good for you, and taste great on pizza. They’re also an effective weapon for taking out drones, as evidenced by a recent incident in Kyiv, in which a resident used a jar of tomatoes to down one of the flying objects.

And we can’t really blame her. Having a drone buzzing around you is annoying in the best of times—but downright threatening in the middle of an armed conflict. Who knows who could be piloting that drone circling above your yard. It might be a government agency, a utilities company, or a pesky peeping neighbor.

Is hurling hard objects the answer in most scenarios? Well, not really. It might make you liable to pay compensation to the owner of the drone you’ve damaged. You might even be arrested. And while places like airports have special technology to shield them from drones, the technology is not available for personal use.

So, are there other, legal methods you can use to stop or evade drone surveillance? After all, there are 1.7 million of them in the U.S. alone. Below, we’ll take a look at methods you can use right now to protect your privacy from drones.

Read more: Go incognito: Avoid surveillance in real life

What are drones used for?

Apart from military applications, drone technology is used by numerous legitimate industries, as well as hobbyists—but they’ve also been used with malicious intent. Whatever their use, there is always a risk that a drone will capture footage of you. Here are just a few ways commercial drones are used:

  • Entertainment. Sweeping drone shots are now commonplace in movies, but aerial shots once required actual planes or enormous cranes to achieve. Sports footage is also frequently captured by drone.
  • Agriculture. Drones help farmers inspect crops and measure them for optimal production.
  • Monitoring unsafe zones. Drones can easily enter disaster areas or otherwise unsafe places to take air and water readings or observe evolving situations, as with wildfires.
  • Law enforcement. Police agencies use drones for search and rescue, surveillance, crowd monitoring, and more.
  • Deliveries. Drone deliveries are being used in some places.
  • Hobbyist and professional photography and videography. Drones might be annoying, but let’s face it, they’re also fun and create great photos.

How drone use can be used maliciously:

  • Interfering with airport operations.
  • Stalking.
  • A drone can be hijacked and used to hack systems.

1. Use your surroundings to take cover

This is the simplest—and cheapest—way to evade drone surveillance. If you suspect a drone’s taking an uninvited peek at you, use the world around you to create obstacles between yourself and the drone.

Trees are a great option. Their thick canopy of leaves can prevent a drone’s camera from spying on you, while also providing a tricky obstacle course for drones to navigate if they try to take a closer look. Plus, with trees you can stay outside rather than sheltering inside like with some of our other examples.

Head inside tunnels or buildings. Being inside one of these two will pretty much shield you from any commercial drones. Of course, this means you’ll be stuck inside, but you’ll avoid drone surveillance.

You can also use the weather to your advantage. Commercial drones like those your neighbors might use aren’t designed to work in bad weather. Rain, fog, and high winds can easily down a drone. This, however, isn’t a very practical method, as you’re at the mercy of the weather.

2. Confuse a drone with an anti-surveillance jacket

Some anti-surveillance advocates and fashion designers have created clothing that could thwart drone surveillance.

There are jackets constructed with multiple layers of fabric containing metal and act as a wearable faraday cage, blocking incoming and outgoing signals. This has the added benefit of preventing outside sources from connecting to your phone or other personal device. This does mean that they’re effectively disconnected, unable to receive any form of data.

Some jackets made of metallic fabric are designed to lower your heat signature so drones are less likely to pick up on your presence if they rely on body heat.

3. Avoid facial recognition with a disguise

Some drones use facial recognition to search for people, so the challenge becomes to evade facial recognition as much as drones. There are a variety of solutions to hide from facial-recognition technology, including obscuring your face with a mask, hat, glasses, even face paint. Machine-readable fabrics also aim to hide wearers from facial recognition software by having patterns that computers interpret as human faces, confusing them and overwhelming the facial recognition algorithms.

Now, a disguise won’t be able to stop the drone from surveilling you or your property. However, it should keep your face concealed, preventing drone pilots from knowing exactly who you are.

Read more: In a possible first, facial recognition has led to a wrongful arrest

4. Don’t forget your umbrella

You can also block a drone’s ability to see who you are by using an umbrella. A normal umbrella is enough. They’re cheap, easy to carry and conceal, and are tough to see around. Just pop it open and hunker down underneath. And if you have some skill with electronics, you can create a high-tech version complete with LEDs on top to confuse a drone’s object tracking algorithm.

Illegal ways to disable drones: Don’t try these!

There are a few other ways to combat drone surveillance—mostly by disabling them. However, these methods are illegal, and may only be used by law enforcement agencies, militaries, airports, and certain security-related businesses. Drones are classed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as Unmanned Aircraft (UAs) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). This protects them in the eyes of the law from being shot at, interfered with physically, or having the signal between drone and operator tampered with in any way. ExpressVPN does not endorse any of the following methods of disabling drones.

  • Lasers: The digital cameras you find on drones use light sensors to take in visual information. It’s possible to blind these sensors by exposing them to too much light—such as a laser pointer—disabling the drone’s camera and preventing it from watching and recording you. However, it’s illegal to shine lasers into the air, as there’s a risk it could blind pilots.
  • Anti-drone jammers: Radar jammers are illegal in all 50 states, as they interfere with the signals law enforcement use to target speeding vehicles, and can even cause issues for airplanes. The Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) is a large, military-level jammer that uses a high-powered radio signal to jam drones. Handheld systems also exist, like DroneDefender. It’s an anti-drone rifle that works similarly to the AUDS with a range of 1,300 feet.
  • Firearms: In order to use a gun to take down a drone, the firearm needs to be pointed at the sky. This is extremely dangerous and highly illegal in almost every country, including the 50 U.S. states. You could face charges of reckless endangerment or be prosecuted under laws to do with the discharge of firearms.
  • Hacking: Like any computerized device, drones are vulnerable to getting hacked. Hacking a drone is similar to hacking a computer, and it can be done from up to a mile away. A common method is to intercept the radio signal a drone uses to communicate with its operator. This signal is often unencrypted, making it an easy vulnerability for hackers to exploit. As in other cases, hacking a drone is a criminal act.
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