By Nick Gilbert
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have demonstrated that an outside source can commandeer the GPS signals of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone. This approach will enable implementing a new federal mandate, through which the U.S. airspace can have many civilian drones by 2015.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security welcomed the Assistant Professor Todd Humphreys and his students from Cockrell School of Engineering to carry out demonstration efforts by June end in White Sands, New Mexico. Based on a small, advanced UAV and complementary software and hardware developed by Humphrey’s team, the researchers consistently overtook navigational signals directed to the GPS-guided vehicle.
Dubbed "spoofing," the technique will provide fake civil GPS signals that assure the vehicle's GPS receiver. As GPS receivers' location and time have been tricked by spoofing, the GPS-reliant devices, markets and infrastructure are considered to be prone to attacks such as the instance when the U.S. military drone vanished over Iran in 2011, and re-appeared a week later. The Iranians claimed to use spoofing to land the vehicle.
The University of Texas at Austin researchers achieved the unequivocal demonstration, through which they showed the technical possibility of commandeering a UAV via GPS spoofing.
The demonstration was presented during the university's My Introduction to Engineering summer camp. Under this project, students also designed hardware and software, in addition to learning several techniques.
While spoofing was demonstrated at White Sands, the research team led a hovering UAV beyond 1 km. A similar demonstration is anticipated next year on a moving UAV from a distance of 10 km.