Hacked drones could become missiles over U.S., researchers warn

GPS spoofing is easy and effective, demo proves, making plan for domestic drone flights risky

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There's a lot more to worry about than invasion of privacy, following a demonstration in researchers from the University of Texas at Austin Radionavigation Laboratory showed the DHS and FAA how easy it is for outsiders to confuse drone guidance systems to redirect drones to new targets, or simply let them crash and burn, according to a story in IEEE Spectrum.

The demo was conducted first in a Univ. Texas football stadium using a small helicopter and later at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, whose oft-impacted ground nearly ate another aircraft after the spoofed drone tried to find the ground too quickly. Its remote pilot pulled it out of a dive just in time to avoid a crash, according to Fox News, which also covered the story.

“Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” according to Todd Humphreys, director of the Radionavigation Laboratory, researcher and founder of Coherent Navigation, a company working on spoof-resistant GPS technology.

With someone other than a legitimate GPS satellite feeding location data to a drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle stops being a useful tool for observation, law enforcement and interdiction of drug- and immigrant traffic and become "missiles," Humphrey said.

Using what Humphreys called the most advanced GPS spoofer ever built, which still cost less than $1,000, Humphreys and his team catch the drone by sending accurate GPS signals to it, overwhelming the legitimate signal with the spoofer's greater power and location data that agrees with the legitimate signal – at first.

With little difficulty, Humphreys redirects the drone by changing the numbers in his signal so the drone has to correct its heading, attitude and altitude to stay on course.

Jamming a GPS signal is fairly simple, Humphreys said. Spoofing is harder, but not difficult or expensive enough to deter terrorists or criminals.

Photo Credit: 

Reuters

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