What’s the frequency? Making a map of IoT devices using drones

There are at least 1,586 unique ZigBee Internet of Things devices in Austin. How do we know? Security researchers from Praetorian created a drone with a tool that tracks devices’ communications to collect their data.

ZigBee is a wireless communication standard found in a relatively large number of devices. It uses a mesh network structure to communicate between devices, meaning it passes a signal along to product until it reaches its intended recipient, which extends the range over which devices can talk to each other.

“When they communicated over a wireless protocol called ZigBee, this protocol is open at a network level. So when the devices start connecting they send out beacon requests. We capture data based on this,” Praetorian vice president Paul West Jauregui told Business Insider. The company plans to use the information to locate the devices and examine their security. You can see the Austin map here.

The self-powered drone has several ZigBee radios for communicating with the devices around it and an integrated GPS to triangulate the location of each device.

“The project will also give us a window into the Internet of Things trends. It’ll let us know things like how many Philips Hue light bulbs are out there,” he said. The tech is sophisticated enough to detect who made the devices it maps. The map shows 453 Sony devices and 110 Philips Lighting products, according to Fortune. Manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, and Texas Instruments also use ZigBee.

As the project continues, Praetorian says it will discuss the security implications, though it’s also planning on releasing a guide so people can build their own guides. While the company plans on mapping other cities, getting other people’s drones in the sky will expand the project and provide IoT maps of more locations.