Drones continue to see large rollouts in various industries across the world, and now there’s one more thing to worry about on top of privacy issues and potential death from above. A team at the University of Texas has managed to find a vulnerability in drones that allows an attacker to gain control of the unmanned vehicle and change its course. Professor Todd Humphreys and the team spoof GPS receivers in order to take control of the drones.
Spoofers are a new problem for GPS-guided drones, allowing hackers to trick navigation systems with false information. Humphreys and the team have designed a device costing less than $1,000 that sends out a GPS signal stronger than the ones coming down from orbiting satellites. At first, the rogue signal mimics the official one in order to trick the drone, and once it’s accepted new commands can be sent to the UAV.
Naturally, Humphreys highlights the associated risks of such a device, saying that in the wrong hands drones could be turned into missiles. Right now drones can’t be used in US airspace on a wide basis, but Congress has asked the FAA to come up with regulations that would allows drones to fly over the United States by 2015. That could lead to usage in law enforcement, as well as by power companies and delivery firms.
The US government says its aware of the potential dangers of spoofing, and officials from the FAA and Department of Homeland Security have seen Humphreys’ demonstration first hand. The Department of Homeland Security reportedly has a program in place to try and solve the problem of GPS interference, but it’s aimed at trying to deal with jammed signals, not spoofed ones.