The greatest threat facing Game of Thrones comes not from dragons, Dothraki hordes or merciless White Walkers but from drone pilots trying to get a sneak preview of HBO’s hit TV show.
G4S, the private security company that is guarding the sets in Northern Ireland, where most of the filming takes place, says the drones are being flown overhead by curious amateurs and people looking to sell plot spoilers to media and entertainment websites. HBO is currently filming the seventh series of Game of Thrones and although it has not released any details, spoilers and photographs are widely available online.
But apart from revealing plot secrets, G4S says drones are an increasing problem in other areas of its business, including its work providing security for the government, businesses and wealthy individuals. Drones have been used to smuggle phones, drugs and other contraband items into prisons, flown over celebrity weddings by paparazzi photographers, and sent into stadiums to record music concerts or sports events.
Pilots of civilian aircraft have repeatedly warned of the dangers of hitting a drone as they take off or land. In July this year, an Airbus with 165 people on board missed hitting a drone by metres as it flew above the Shard in central London.
In January 2015, a drunken US government employee accidentally crashed a drone on to the White House lawn. A few months later in Japan, a man was arrested after landing a drone carrying radioactive sand on the prime minister’s roof in protest at the country’s nuclear policies.
Noah Price, head of solutions development at G4S UK, which has been guarding the Game of Thrones sites for about a year, said the security company dealt with the intruders by informing the Civil Aviation Authority, which sets the rules for drone flying. These include a ban on drones with cameras from going within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or other structures, and requiring drones to stay clear of congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events.
The problem has got worse as drones get cheaper and more sophisticated, however. A simple, lightweight drone with an eight-minute battery can be bought online for £30, while it costs about £200 for a drone that can stay in the air for around 15 minutes.
At the higher end of the price range, a drone with a 30-minute battery life and a speed of approximately 45mph costs about £1,000. These can be controlled from up to three miles away and can carry high-quality cameras that can stream video to devices on the ground.
Like other security experts, Mr Price warned that the use of drones as weapons poses the most serious risk. Airports, stadiums, power plants, nuclear facilities and chemical companies have all reported unwanted drone incursions, he said.
The question now is how to stop them. While G4S — which says there is also a risk to cast members and production crew from drones falling on them — tries to pre-empt drone pilots by patrolling the area around premises it guards, technology companies are developing devices that jam drone signals or take over the control of the craft.
Other anti-drone measures include shooting them down, snaring them in nets or sending up other drones to capture or collide with them — though all these raise safety issues as disabled or uncontrolled drones fall to the ground. Fittingly for Game of Thrones fans, one option being tested by Dutch police is the use of birds of prey to knock drones out of the sky.
“We are trying to keep up with the technology just like everyone else,” said Mr Price. “It is a huge challenge for everyone in the security industry.”
Full story: FT