Is It Hard to Fly a Drone? No, and It's Pretty Easy to Kill With One, Too

President Donald Trump was recently caught on camera mocking the Venezuelan armed forces' response to a suspected drone attack during a presidential rally in Caracas last month—an incident that the U.S. itself may be critically underprepared for.

Trump has accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of economically and politically mismanaging his socialist country and of cracking down on protests with force. Shortly after telling reporters that "every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela," including "the strong ones," Trump said Wednesday that Venezuela "could be toppled very quickly," pointing out "how the military spread as soon as they heard a bomb go off way above their head" in reference to how two armed drones exploded at a rally attended by Maduro in August, causing bedlam.

The socialist president blamed the attack—officially described as an attempt on his life—on neighboring Colombia and the U.S. The event prompted discussion about the vulnerabilities of traditional security measures toward drones, once technological luxuries and now readily accessible devices. In the face of these emerging risks, experts are warning that Venezuela may only be the beginning if people fail to appreciate the extent of damage drones capable of inflicting on society.

"Drones are seen as super large, high-flying, sophisticated military aircraft or they're seen as toys," Joerg Lamprecht, CEO and co-founder of Dedrone told Newsweek. But in reality, he said, "you have a small cruise missile for the masses."

Trump #EEUU se burla de militares venezolanos tras reunión con Duque #Colombia "Yo no creo nuestros infantes de marina correrían así, ¿Verdad, General Kelly? // Gral Kelly: No, los marines no habrían corrido.
Esto a propósito del atentado contra Maduro. Video: @carlaangola

— Lohena Reverón (@lareveron10) September 25, 2018

"They're very easy to fly, very easy to operate and anybody can buy a gun, so there are people flying drones with guns, there are people flying drones with chainsaws now," he added. "Also deploying explosives or other lethal devices may take some sort of specialist knowledge, but its also certainly doable."

Dedrone is a company dedicated to drone detection technology, and it sells advanced prevention systems to governments, law enforcement and Fortune 500 companies across the globe. In a press release published earlier this month, the company said: "What happened in Venezuela is a stark reminder of the power of drones as weapons. This isn't the first time drones have been used for malicious purposes, and it won't be the last."

To illustrate this point, the company maintains a comprehensive database of drone-related events across the world. The map includes up to 100 incidents in the U.S. alone, and they vary widely, from a drone crashing into a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter over New York's Staten Island to a Cleveland power outage caused by a drone flying into a power plant.

It's not just collisions either: There are multiple instances of drones being used to spy on individuals or private property, and even at least one case in which thieves reportedly used a drone to scope out a residence before burglarizing it.

Lamprecht, a native of Germany who has since relocated to San Francisco, recalls a particular incident that left an impression on him. In September 2013, a small drone crash landed just feet away from German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a campaign event. The German leader simply smiled, but many in the counterterrorism community immediately saw the potential damage such a device could do if armed or otherwise laden with a harmful substance. The fact that it was able to fly nearly within arm's reach of the German head of state did not bode well for the state of active security measures.

Drones haven't left European leaders alone since then, either. French police have opened a full investigation after they reportedly "neutralized" a drone that flew over French President Emmanuel Macron's summer residence in the Côte d'Azur just weeks ago. The incident occurred just days after the alleged assassination attempt in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reacts during an event that was interrupted by drones with explosives, in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 4. President Donald Trump was recently caught on camera mocking the Venezuelan armed forces’ response to a suspected drone attack. VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT TV/REUTERS

These incidents caused no fatalities or bodily harm, but the same can't be said for countries in regions such as the Middle East, where the U.S. reinvented warfare with the art of extrajudicial, controversial drone killings. Now, nonstate actors have managed to build an entire makeshift air force capable of wreaking death and destruction.

For years, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has used drones to conduct deadly raids on enemy forces and document its deeds in crystal-clear, high-definition footage that often gets spread instantly through supportive social media channels. Another leading anti-drone pioneer, DroneShield CEO Oleg Vornik, said that the incident in Venezuela brought the horrors of ISIS usage to the Western hemisphere and that, while many saw privacy as a leading issue for the devices, now "terrorism is the primary threat."

"We haven't seen any high-profile attacks in the U.S., but it's certainly getting there," Vornik told Newsweek. "It will happen sooner or later. I think it's just a matter of time. I hope it's later, but it's a matter of when and not if."

Even the most popular models of commercially available drones are capable of carrying at least a couple of grenades or other explosives, such as the military-grade C4 reportedly used in Venezuela. Both Lamprecht and Vornik imagined the same scenario of a drone armed with an otherwise harmless substance such as Coca-Cola or baking powder to being flown into a packed stadium and spraying the crowd. The ensuing panic could cause mass injuries or even death. At the very least, it would disrupt our way of life.

Drones allegedly used during recent attacks on Russia’s bases in Syria, are seen at a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry, in Moscow, January 11. Russia said the drones were made from commercially available parts and were launched from Idlib, Syria, which is dominated by the jihadi Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

From nuclear power plants to national water reserves, Vornik warned that key facilities were "underprotected" from such a threat. Though Trump boasted Wednesday about U.S. defenses, saying, "I don't think the Marines would've run" should they have encountered a situation similar to what happened in Venezuela, the real threat may lie in a much less high-profile target than the president. Federal officials appeared to confirm this shortly after the Venezuela incident, when the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning.

"An attack could be conducted by one person or several people using a commercially available, off-the-shelf [drone] to target venues which attract large crowds, such as sporting facilities, concerts, and transportation terminals, or public figures," the note read, according to ABC News, adding that "details on building or modifying [drones] by terrorists as a means to deliver a weapon, are available on the internet and online forums, making it feasible for a person with sufficient technical experience or motivation to conduct an attack."

"Drones are here to stay, they're not going anywhere," Lamprecht said. "They are a new technology and every new technology has a security aspect. We're going to have to get used to them.