Unmanned aerial vehicles: A preliminary analysis of forensic challenges

Graeme Horsman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


As unmanned aerial vehicles have become more affordable, their popularity with the general public and commercial organisations has seen significant growth in recent years. Whilst remaining a device for both the hobbyist and aircraft-enthusiast to enjoy, they are now also used for carrying out activities such as law enforcement surveillance, agricultural maintenance, acquiring specialist movie and sports event footage along with search and seizure activities. Conversely, despite maintaining many legitimate uses, there are also increasing media reports of unmanned aerial vehicle technology being abused, ranging from physical assaults due to negligent flights to breaches of Civil Aviation Authority Air Navigation Regulations, requiring a forensic analysis of these devices in order to establish the chain of events. This article presents an introductory discussion of unmanned aerial vehicle analysis and provides the results of a digital forensic investigation of a test Parrot Bebop unmanned aerial vehicle. Directions for the acquisition and analysis of the device's internal storage are provided along with an interpretation of on-board flight data, captured media and operating system. Further, as the device can be controlled via Android and iOS devices using the application FreeFlight3, forensic analysis of these devices is also presented. Results showed the ability to recover flight data from both the unmanned aerial vehicle and controller handsets along with captured media, however problems exist with establishing the definitive owner of the device, particularly if a user had abandoned it at the scene of a crime.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalDigital Investigation
Early online date9 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


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