News Item

Drone vulnerabiliy exposed

A US university has exposed the ease with which civilian drones can be 'hijacked' by spoofing GPS.

Prof Todd Humphreys of the Radionavigation Laboratory of the University of Texas at Austin reports that his team has highlighted a 'gaping hole' in the US Government’s plan to open airspace to thousands of drones.

Until now, jammers have been able to cause problems by denying GPS to receivers, but Prof Humphreys explains that spoofers are a giant leap forward in technology - manipulating navigation computers with false information that looks real.

With his device, which he calls the most advanced spoofer ever built - at a cost of just $1,000 - he can infiltrate the GPS system of a drone with a signal more powerful than that received from the satellites.

Initially, spoof signals match those of the GPS system so the drone receiver detects nothing amiss - but then the spoof power is increased and the drone's navigation is taken over.

Prof Humphreys explains that spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane - it could be turned into a weapon. In other words, with the right equipment, anyone can take control of a GPS-guided drone and make it do anything they wish.

He adds that the implications are very serious. 'In 5 or 10 years you have 30,000 drones in the airspace; each one of these could be a potential missile used against us.'

The US Congress has directed the FAA to define rules for government and commercial use of UAVs over the US by 2015. This could see police drones over cities, UAVs monitoring transmission lines for power companies or cargo aircraft-size drones delivering packages - FedEx has already said that it would like to add unmanned drones to his fleet as soon as possible.

Prof Humphreys realises that the potential consequences of GPS spoofing are nothing short of chilling, warning that a terrorist group could match his technology and cause havoc. He is worried about UAVs crashing into other aircraft or buildings.

He concludes '...we reinforced the cockpit door to prevent people hijacking planes - well, we need to adopt that mentality as far as the navigation systems for these UAVs.'

Details from Fox News below.

  • 25 June 2012
  • CMAG

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