Bogus GPS Signal Sends Ship Off Course

Dennis Faas's picture

Security researchers at the University of Texas have reportedly used global positioning system (GPS) technology to remotely take control of a ship. Shockingly, they pulled off the scheme without being detected by the ship's crew.

Fortunately, the attack was part of a controlled experiment carried out with the permission of the ship's owners.

The researchers were able to use bogus GPS data to control the ship's navigation. It's the first time researchers have been able to successfully alter GPS data rather than simply blocking or "jamming" a signal.

The researchers say they were able to change the course of the boat and insist they would have been able to steer it towards another boat or into unsafe waters. The crew was unaware of the change of course as their navigation equipment appeared to show nothing was amiss. (Source:

The researchers say that, because ships cover a large distance over open seas, it requires only a tiny change of course to take a boat far out of position before crew members notice something is wrong.

GPS Spoofing Could Also Hit Planes

The researchers also note that, in principle, it would be possible to hijack a commercial airliner using the same technique.

Although the attack required some technical skill, it was carried out on a budget. The researchers used an ordinary laptop and radio antenna, with the only specialist equipment being a GPS 'spoofer' device that costs around $3,000. (Source:

Hackers Could Broadcast Fake GPS Signals

The "spoofer" equipment used by the researchers is effectively a radio broadcaster that sends out bogus signals at a slightly greater radio strength. The result: they "drown out" the real signals.

At first, the spoofer sends out signals that match the real ones coming from the satellites, thereby tricking targeted devices. The spoofer then starts gradually speeding up or delaying the reply from the satellite, making the device think it is in a different location.

Over time, that's enough to send any vehicle or craft using the device off course.

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