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GPS Flaw Leads to Ship and Plane Hijacks

In a frightening demonstration, University of Texas Professor Todd Humphreys and his team hijacked a 210-foot yacht sailing in the Mediterranean Sea with only a $3,000 GPS spoofer, an antenna and a laptop. 

The team assembled a device that emits a false GPS signal that can easily be mistaken and accepted by the ship crew as genuine. Once the signal is accepted as legitimate, the engineers gain the “authority” to steer the vessel at will.

“We injected our spoofing signals into its GPS antennas and we’re basically able to control its navigation system with our spoofing signals,” Todd Humphreys explains. “Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried about.”

On the ship, apparently no alarm device picked up the foul play: “Professor Humphreys and his team did a number of attacks and basically we on the bridge were absolutely unaware of any difference,” the ship’s captain Andrew Schofield told Fox News.

Given that 90 per cent of the global cargo is maritime, messing up this kind of transportation can impact the economy disastrously. This prompted US government and army officials (CIA, Pentagon, and Congress) to contact Humphreys and have him speak about the GPS vulnerability and his proof-of-concept.

The navigation systems of ships and commercial aircraft are similar which means that the same type of attack could be conducted against planes as well.

The advancement of the attack form is significant since last year when the team led a proof-of-concept attack against drones.

“Before we couldn’t control the UAV. We could only push it off course. This time my students have designed a closed loop controller such that they can dictate the heading of this vessel even when the vessel wants to go a different direction,” Humphreys says.

See the proof-of-concept video here – Spoofing on the High Seas

About The Author

E-Threat Analyst

A blend of teacher and technical journalist with a pinch of e-threat analysis, Loredana Botezatu writes mostly about malware and spam. She believes that most errors happen between the keyboard and the chair. Loredana has been writing about the IT world and e-security for well over five years and has made a personal goal out of educating computer users about the ins and outs of the cybercrime ecosystem.

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