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Recent years have seen the role of drones in criminal activity increasing significantly. In the area of cyber forensics, law enforcement faces a significant challenge keeping up with technology changes. New technology is released into the market at a very rapid pace and used in criminal activity almost immediately.

The large volume of information contained on these devices can make the difference in an investigation, and law enforcement investigators require updated tools to address the changing technology. To expand law enforcement capabilities to identify, collect and analyze evidentiary data from consumer and professional drones, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has awarded a $928,541 R&D contract to VTO Inc.

According to, the award is part of the S&T Cyber Security Division’s (CSD) Cyber Forensics project, which develops cost-effective and novel cyber forensics solutions that help law enforcement keep pace with advances in technology.

“Drones are an emerging area of interest for law enforcement since they contain data that may be key in criminal investigations,” said Acting DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology William N. Bryan. “Like other digital devices, such as computers and phones, law enforcement agencies require new capabilities to recover evidence from drones and their cameras, sensors and other devices, this project will deliver these capabilities”, he added.

The work will focus on conducting cutting-edge research that will address key aspects of collecting digital forensics data from drone systems. During the research, VTO will target the identification and definition of the various data types residing on drones and their connected systems. The company also will seek to identify each drone’s data-acquisition method, including logical and physical acquisition opportunities.

The project’s final product will be a website supporting law enforcement officers, forensic services specialists and researchers. The website will be populated with instruction information obtained from the complete physical teardown and analysis of sample drones and their connected controllers.

“This project will provide law enforcement the ability to extract and analyze evidentiary data from expensive and sophisticated professional drones to relatively simple store-bought drones,” said Megan Mahle, Program Manager in S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). “This is a capability the law enforcement community needs, especially as the popularity of drones and their use in criminal activity continues to grow”, she concluded.