Update: Hackers create aerial probe to spy on drones

Deep Sweep probe, just before launch
Deep Sweep probe, just before launch

A group of Berlin-based hackers and artists is developing an aerial probe in order to, among other things, monitor aerial surveillance.

The organisation known as Critical Engineering has begun testing an aerospace probe they call Deep Sweep. Critical Engineering's comprehensive description of its project reads: “The Deep Sweep is an aerospace probe scanning the otherwise out-of-reach signal space between land and stratosphere, with special interest placed in UAV/Drone to satellite communication.”

Critical Engineering has undertaken to, among other things, ‘watch the watchmen', the government agencies that surveil civil society. Julian Oliver, a member of Critical Intelligence told Wired Magazine that “the core point of the project is to build a low-cost platform for high-altitude signals intelligence”. 

Oliver added, “It's about creating an interface to read the signals in the skies above us, to understand what's going on up there.”

The probe itself is cobbled together with an acrylic shell, a helium filled balloon, three antennae, a GoPro camera, and a cigarette-lighter-to-USB charger, all encased in a silver mirrored sphere created from two surveillance camera domed coverings. 

During flight, the balloon ascends, collecting radio signals along the way. At somewhere between 25  and 30 kilometres the air gets too thin and the balloon bursts, which in turn activates a parachute to safely deliver the probe to earth. It is illegal for people other than the military to send information at the speeds Critical Engineering would need to transmit data live, so data is picked up directly from the probe once it has landed.

This isn't the first time they've tried either. The group has performed two other launches, one which landed in Poland and a second which landed over 1000 kilometres away in Belarus, known as Europe's last dictatorship.

Danja Vasiliev, a member of Critical Engineering, spoke to SCmagazineUK.com on the reasons for Deep Sweep: "The main reason for starting The Deep Sweep project was the emerging necessity to know what is happening in the skies above our heads. That domain of high-altitude radio communication was a comfortable place for rogue and secretive communication by governments, spies and alike - for way too long. Public deserves to have the tools and methods for watching what is happening in the air above, and The Deep Sweep project provides one of the ways of doing exactly that."