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BEIRUT, Lebanon – A recent successful test in which members of the University of Texas at Austin’s Radionavigation Laboratory hacked into the ground positioning system, or GPS, of a drone with less than $1,000 of equipment has grabbed the attention of security experts out of concern that the GPS on airlines similarly could be hacked and the jets could become a cruise missile, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
The concern first arose after U.S. agencies witnessed the test at UT. There are plans by federal, state and local agencies to use drones for law enforcement. It is estimated that within five to 10 years, there could be 30,000 drones operating within the U.S.
However, these drones with their lightly encrypted GPS could be hacked and used against the U.S. population, as the UT test demonstrated.
“Each one of these could be a potential missile used against us,” according to Professor Todd Humphreys, whose team performed the demonstration in mid-June.
He pointed out that most drones that will fly over the U.S. will be using civilian GPS which either is lightly encrypted, or not at all, thereby making it vulnerable to hacking.
He said that while there are “anti-spoofing techniques” available, “the reality is that no anti-spoofing techniques currently defend civil GPS receivers.”
Humphreys added that spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is “just another way of hijacking a plane.” While anyone, he said, could take control of a GPS-guided drone and “make it do anything they want it to,” he said the same could be done with civilian aircraft.
He pointed out that GPS jammers are readily available for purchase online. They can confuse a drone’s computer, bringing it under control of a ground pilot.
The intent is for U.S. federal agencies to fix this problem before undertaking a policy of allowing some 30,000 drones to be crisscrossing the country and used as potential weapons.
“We’re raising the flag early on in this process so there is ample opportunity to improve the security of civilian drones from these attacks,” Humphreys said.
Technology experts surmise that it was spoofing that diverted an SQ-170 stealth drone, which the U.S. recently flew from Afghanistan. It ventured into Iran and landed.
The U.S. spy drone had highly secret technology and encryption on board but the Iranians show how they spoofed it to land intact in Iran, presenting the Islamic republic with a potentially serious technology bonanza.
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