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Stand and deliver!

Jun 13, 2017
Why parcel drones and droids could trigger the return of the highwayman.



Back in the 18th century, highwaymen such as Dick Turpin regularly robbed mail coaches; now the online parcel broker ParcelHero is warning a new generation of highwayman is likely to appear, spurred on by the arrival of automated delivery droids (robots), drones and driverless vans. 

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT said, “Autonomous deliveries are already happening. Amazon drones have delivered parcels in Cambridgeshire, droids have carried food and goods in London, and driverless vans are operating in Greenwich. But as technology takes over, a new generation of cyber-criminals will be bent on stealing from these automated machines. While the last recorded traditional highwayman rode into the sunset in 1831, it’s likely 21st century highwaymen will soon be attempting to force these devices to ‘Stand and Deliver’ your deliveries!” 

David continued, “UK Internet retail sales are now worth over £133bn a year. If these deliveries become largely automated and just 1% of items are waylaid using new technology, that’s over £1bn of goods stolen a year. The traditional highwayman was reliant on a speedy horse to intercept the mail coach; but today Black Bess will be replaced by scrambling and jamming equipment aimed at intercepting or diverting deliveries. As couriers and posties are replaced by automated machines the prospect of being able to remotely take over or capture a drone, droid or autonomous van, carrying valuable items, is bound to create a new type of crime.” 

David said that devices that alter the drone or droid’s instructions, or simply stop them dead, will inevitably be developed and that it was easy to envisage EMI jammers cutting off signals as the delivery machine passes, causing it to stop in its tracks or drop out of the sky. Likewise, signals that re-programme deliveries – taking advantage of existing technology currently used to divert a courier whilst it is en route to another destination or a neighbour - are also likely to be developed. By diverting delivery drones into Faraday cage-style boxes, the modern-day highwayman will be able to block tracking signals and web cam pictures indicating where the delivery has been taken. 

Some experts are even claiming we could see ‘pirate’ drones designed to bring down parcel delivery drones from the sky. The cleverer technology becomes, the cleverer criminals become in taking advantage of the latest advances. 

“Highwaymen once enjoyed a kind of popular glamour; especially those who went to the gallows laughing and joking: that’s why we still know of the exploits of Dick Turpin,” said David. “But I don’t think today’s public will find anything admirable in the theft of their eagerly anticipated parcels. It’s vital that Amazon, and the various couriers and tech companies designing autonomous delivery machines, plan for such attempted thefts and build robust defences and safeguards into them.” 

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