The FAA is already in the process of rolling out its Next Generation Air Transportation System, of NextGen, a state-of-the-art program that will keep tabs on every plane in US airspace using GPS technology in lieu of relying on traditional radar. In the wake of a series of incidents where GPS signals were spoofed, though, serious problems could emerge in the coming years.
"If I can inject 50 extra flights onto an air traffic controller's screen, they are not going to know what is going on," Canadian computer consultant Brad Haines told NPR last year. Because Haines and others can emulate unencrypted and unauthenticated GPS signals sent from imaginary planes, he says NextGen stands to warrant some upgrades before it’s ready for the rest of the world.
"If you could introduce enough chaos into the system – for even an hour – that hour will ripple though the entire world's air traffic control,” Haines told NPR.
Haines’ ideas are outrageous, but not exactly out of this world. Just last year, a Texas college professor spoofed, or faked, GPS signals in order to hijack an unmanned aerial vehicle right in front of the US Department of Homeland Security. The United States stands to have as many as 30,000 UAVs, or drones, flying overhead by the end of the decade. When Todd Humphreys of the University of Texas at Austin spoke with RT though, he said those aircraft could come down if hackers have their way.
“The navigations systems of these drones have a variety of sensors,” Humphreys told RT, “…but at the very bottom is a GPS unit — and most of these drones that will be used in the civilian airspace have a civilian GPS unit which is wide open and vulnerable to this kind of attack. So if you can commander the GPS unit, then you can basically spoon feed false navigation information to the navigation center of these drones.”
“Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” the professor added in an interview with Fox News.
14 Jan 2013