By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Government
Using about $1,000 worth of equipment, researchers were able to "spoof" a GPS receiver to take control of an unmanned aircraft.
A heated controversy is about to get even more controversial after a group of college students figured out a way to hack a government surveillance drone.
The experiment, carried out by a University of Texas team in conjunction with the Department of Homeland security, used a method called GPS-spoofing. Using about $1,000 worth of equipment, the researchers were able to "spoof" a GPS receiver, send false signals and take control of the unmanned aircraft. To highlight just how dangerous a hijacked aircraft can be, they nearly steered it into the ground before a safety pilot with a radio control intervened to prevent the drone from crashing.
The security of UAV technology has been a concern since military officials discovered a computer virus had infected systems used to control Predator and Reaper drones. Such fears were heightened when Iran was able to capture the U.S. military's most advanced reconnaissance aircraft, a RQ-170 Sentinal last December. It's believed that the hackers brought down the drone by jamming GPS navigational signals.
GPS spoofing, however, takes the threat to more sophisticated and dangerous level since a hijacked drone can be manipulated to carry out attacks or to steal gathered intelligence. It's kind of like the robot version of being possessed or mind control.
While UAVs, such the predator, have proven to be gamechangers in the field of espionage and war on terror, they're also been shown to be potential safety and legal liability. On one hand, they've been credited with taking out high-profile terrorist leaders such as second ranking Al-Qaeda member Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and their American-born operations chief Anwar al-Awlaki. On the homeland front, there have even been cases where police departments have enlisted their help to carry out investigations and arrests.
However, much of the worry centers around instances when the technology falls in the wrong hands. Five months after Iran had the Sentinel in their possession, news emerged that the Iranian government had figured out a way to copy the technology. And with the FAA recently deciding to open American airspace to commercial and government-operated drones within three years, the possibility of "re-possession" has become cause for even greater concern.
“I’m worried about them crashing into other planes,” Professor Todd Humphreys, who lead the hacker team, told Fox News. “I’m worried about them crashing into buildings. We could get collisions in the air and there could be loss of life, so we want to prevent this and get out in front of the problem.”
In the meantime, the department of homeland security is working to fix some of the gaping holes in security and experiments like this will help to expose and patch up problems before a truly bad incident happens.
The latest on drones:
- Virus attacks military drones, exposes vulnerabilities
- Police use military drones to arrest U.S. citizens
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- Video: Piloted aircraft transforms into a spy drone
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Jul 4, 2012
The drone thing always was dangerous the countermeasures that exist are they being applied? I cannot believe that they are not.
About 30 years ago a remote controlled, explosive carrying, model plane was used to successfully execute a Family Law Court judge in Sydney Australia by flying it into his home. The perpetrator has never been identified or caught.
I hope none of the "students" are from IRAN ! Now that the words out, Smart Planet isnt the news breaker on this) Home Security USA AND alot of other "Homes" (Israel) had better start thinking (Defense, about Drones, Not Drone Spy, and seek and destroy ), Remember the nut case that flew the Prop plane at the White House and Crashed a Few yards away ? Well it would be Easier to fly a tiny "Drone" "under the radar" with say Plastic Explosives on board just for terrorism effects. How are we going to defend against this ? Patriot Missles ?, Now that everyone is aware of this threat, and ability, a whole new Can Of Worms Is Open !
I'm just hoping the next generation of drones is better. They are aware of the problem and the people who designed the original security should have been more paranoid and allowed for such things. If "I" had made the drones, once a bad guy cracked the hood the entire system would have been fried to prevent tech transfer. I have little doubt that the Chinese and Russians got into a bidding war to get the drone and learn more than we wanted them to. Now that we are aware, we need to limit the use of the drones to where they are unable to be interfered with. So, Afghanistan is still likely a good place, but Iran is obviously out for the current generation. I sincerely hope that the armed drones have paranoid level security when it comes to the fire control options.
"GPS spoofing, however, takes the threat to more sophisticated and dangerous level" I wonder if those madrassah going luddites in Iran knew that? Oh well, that's the down side to living in a society with a (somewhat) free press. I'd still take the free press (under any cost!), but I also still wonder whether I would have printed this article if I had been the editor.
Hates Idiots wrote: "Manned aircraft cannot be entirely replaced by drones." Commercial airliners have auto pilots that can virtually control the plane from gate to gate. It is common for pilots to turn navigation of the plane over to electronics shortly after take-off and only turn them off a couple of minutes before touch down. In reality, the electronics could do both take off and touch down but I've never seen a pilot that trusts them enough to give up that function. From shortly after take off to shortly before touch down, the pilot simply monitors the gages and looks out the windows. This has come down to the consumer level. Years ago, probably in the early 1990's, I read about a yachtsman who had an autopilot and a GPS receiver that "talked" to each other. He set his destination in the GPS (a bouy at the harbor entrance) and turned the units on, set the throttle and he was on his merry way. He decided he needed lunch and went down to the galley for a sandwich. While he was there, the boat rammed the buoy and eventually sank. That's how accurate they are.
" . . . or to steal gathered intelligence . . . " This is hilarious. We use a drone to gather intelligence and when those who are being spied upon take the information back, they are "stealing"? Regardless of who is doing the 'stealing', spying is a crime. 'Stealing' the information is nothing more than the thwarting of a crime. Three cheers to all crimestoppers everywhere.
That GPS is vulnerable and can be tampered with is not news; GPS signals are very weak and can easily be jammed. (This is one reason that they make you turn off your electronics during take-offs and landings; even passive radiation from consumer electronics can theoretically interfere with it) This was tactically demonstrated nearly a decade ago during the early stages of the Iraq war, when the UN unwittingly (or not) imported Russian-made GPS jamming equipment into Baghdad to thwart US cruise missiles. That someone can actually effectively spoof a GPS signal has been a theoretical threat for at least as long, but only recently has been demonstrated in practice. This is much harder to achieve, as not only does the legitimate sat signal has to be blocked, but the replacement signal must contain timing data and computations to continually deliver the false data in a way that does not cause the receiver to reject it. Amazingly complicated, but clearly now possible. So what is the answer? Clearly, drones will not be able to rely upon GPS data alone for navigation. Fortunately, inertial navigation and terrain-following systems have been mature technologies since the 70s. Drones will have to cross-reference against such systems to be able to recognize when GPS is being tampered with. Drones will just have to get smarter.
I suspect these drones use technology similar to radio controlled model aircraft. If that is the case, they would fly on a narrow band of radio communications frequencies that could be (relatively) easily detected and transmitters could be reprogrammed to those frequencies. This technology has been available to consumers for more than 50 years.
While hijacking a drone is of obvious concern a more immediate problem exists which needs to be addressed now. Drones are already in use by private individuals and the use drones in private use are being marketed for such use as aerial photography of real estate with little to no oversight. Licensed piloted aircraft are well regulated and are monitored during flight by ground controllers. Experimental aircraft can be flown by a non licensed pilot at altitudes that escape monitoring by ground controllers and with far less regulation than that of a registered aircraft. By comparison there is no regulation or monitoring of privately owned remote controlled aircraft. With new and sophisticated capabilities and lack of law covering their use drones certainly will be abused by unscrupulous individuals to intrude upon the privacy of others. Rupert Murdoch's News of The World organization is a prime example of how an otherwise well trusted and respected industry can abuse technology for such purpose as it did when it hacked the voice mail of a victim in what was thought to be a missing person case thereby delaying what should have been a homicide investigation. Certainly when such an unrestrained members of the press abuse one form of technology to violate privacy certainly they will also jump at the chance to use drones to photograph celebrities and politicians and create dangerous conditions for the surrounding community. Private use of drones should at least be subject to the same level of accountability that law enforcement must face.
Manned aircraft cannot be entirely replaced by drones. Even so called autonomous drones that fly programmed flights have radio uplinks that are vulnerable to hacking.
"Tiny drones" have been available for purchase by anyone with enough cash at stores all over the country for many years. They're usually called RC - remote controlled - planes. A "tiny" plane translates into "tiny" amount of stuff that it can carry. Very little explosives after installing a video camera & a transmitter.
Hates Idiots actually wrote: "This is why...Manned aircraft cannot be entirely replaced by drones." By which I think he means: Because drones can be hacked or commandeered they cannot be trusted as much as a craft piloted by an on-board human. Not that it isn't technically possible. However, humans are not infallible, especially at piloting planes, so this decision requires balancing the weaknesses of the different ways of piloting aircraft. In other words, drones to not have to be better than "utopia", they merely have to be better than humans.
Sully Sullenberger, the Hudson river landing pilot, has been an out spoken critic of the over use of autopilots in commercial aircraft. Younger pilots who have most of their flight time at the controls of modern commercial aircraft get less than 3 minutes actual flying time per flight because of the heavy reliance on automatic pilots. There have been several accidents in recent years, the most public and most deadly was Colgan air flight 3407 that crashed in NY in 2009 killing 50 people. The autopilot did not warn the crew of icing conditions until it was too late. Pilots with hands on the controls would have felt the controls getting sluggish in the critical minutes before things became unmanageable for the computer. By that time it was too late for pilot intervention. The FAA never made any changes to the policy on auto pilots, but they did blame the dead pilots for not properly monitoring the gauges to catch the inniment stall that crashed the plane. Colgan Air now has their crews flying manually in all bad weather.
You can spy on your neighbor topless sun bathing with any of these off the shelf toys right now. http://www.walmart.com/ip/Air-Hogs-Hawk-Eye-2/14320712 http://www.thinkrc.com/helicopters-camera-c-95.html
His plan was to damage the capitol dome enough with a few planes so it would fall under its own weight. I think they said it could hold just over 20 lbs of explosives with the limited fuel he needed to fly from where he planned to launch. http://www.10news.com/news/29332135/detail.html The 25 lbs of imitation C4 they sold him was for a test fitting.
...it was total incompetence of the pilots, and not the autopilot at fault. (Autopilots do not "warn" of conditions; they just fly the plane as they are programmed to) The pilots had every indication that the plane was in a near stall condition (the stick-shaker was activated, clearly indicating an impending stall) and yet the pilot did the exact opposite of what he should have done by pulling up the nose instead of dropping it. It demonstrated a complete lack of "stick & rudder" skills that is endemic in the industry that now primarily focuses on teaching "systems" instead of actually flying. The Air France 447 crash was similar in nature. Even though the pilots had questionable data available, at the end of the day they stalled a perfectly flyable airplane into the ocean. I think the pilot community needs to wake up to this reality as the systems become even more automated and complex. Without basic flying skills, there will be absolutely no reason left for them to even be there.
Walmart ( $60 ) is "Sold Out", I think Amazon has these for sale also,,,,I can see our troops at US Bases around the World Flying these things, practice makes perfect.
Spot on the root of the matter. They get so little stick time that they panic even when there is time to recover.