As the FAA sets to open America’s skies to an expected 30,000 drones in 2015, it is worth reminding ourselves how these simplistic remotely-piloted aircraft are vulnerable to remote “hacking”.
But as of today, such drones present a chilling possibility beyond the already invasive loss of privacy and crowding of the skies: using a non-encrypted GPS system, the drones can possibly be hijacked and used for destructive purposes, potentially as bomb delivery vehicles by domestic or foreign terrorists.
Assistant Professor Todd Humphreys of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin confirmed to BuzzFlash at Truthout that such a vulnerability exists. Humphreys developed the prototype for what is known as a “spoofer,” a device that can seize control of a civilian drone (military drones are encrypted and less vulnerable to hijackings, although they can be jammed and disrupted in certain circumstances – which possibly explains how the Iranians captured a fully intact CIA surveillance drone).
Last year, Humphreys and his aerospace engineering team at the University of Texas demonstrated to the Department of Homeland Security and the FAA how, with equipment costing less than $2000, a drone could be hijacked in a controlled setting with a “spoofer.” A similar experiment also proved successful at Carnegie Mellon University, according toSpace.com: “The overall landscape of GPS vulnerabilities is startling, and our experiments demonstrate a signiﬁcantly larger attack surface than previously thought,” a research paper about the Carnegie Mellon study concluded. “Until GPS is secured, life and safety-critical applications that depend upon it are likely vulnerable to attack.”