A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin received $1,000 from the Department of Homeland Security after hacking into an airborne drone and wresting control from the pilot.
The researchers, headed by Dr. Todd E. Humphreys, got control of the drone by overloading it with false signals that were precisely matched up with authentic satellite signals — a technique known as “spoofing.” Once that happened, the drone ignored the original pilot, instead obeying the hackers’ every command.
“We knew about the vulnerability and bought a drone to test it,” Humphreys told Mashable. “We tested it in midair to see if we could overtake signals from the GPS satellite. You’ve got to get the trick signals perfectly aligned with real signals so there’s no hiccup, but once you overpower the real signals, it’s under your control.”
He added that while his team’s technique sounds simple enough, it took a group of PhD students three years to develop the technique.
The team bought a model of drone commonly used by law enforcement and other agencies to carry out the hack. It’s much smaller than military drones, such as the Predator, and operates on unencrypted civillian GPS — military drones, which use encrypted GPS signals, aren’t vulnerable to Humphreys’s method.
However, Humphreys warned that his technique could be used to hijack any drone currently flying on the civilian GPS band, which includes nearly all drones presently flying over U.S. soil.
Humphreys believes his team’s hack is a wake-up call that GPS reform is necessary before the Federal Aviation Administration opens the civilian skies to more drones, expected to happen by 2015. Should the domestic drones of the future run on an unencrypted civilian GPS band, he said, they would be vulnerable to hackers.
“We’ve been looking into this closely, raising our hand and shouting loudly that the DHS and the FAA should consider funding the Department of Defense to authenticate civilian signals,” said Humphreys. “GPS is entirely owned by the Department of Defense, they own the satellites and signals but they’re generous enough to let us use the civilian signals — it’s not their problem if those signals are open to attacks.
“They’re willing to change those signals and add digital signatures to prevent hacking but they need a couple of million dollars to do that. Who’s supposed to step up? I believe it’s either the DHS or the FAA.”.There are three main things that are neede to hack drones Wireless Technology + Time + Value = It will be hacked.. We need GPS Version 2 with encryption antilogarithms. It will still be hacked eventually but it will take longer and a simple key code change will mitigate the intrusion once it is recognized.The Iranians managed to hack and bring home a drone loaded with advanced technology. The real issue with these drones isn’t that they can be hacked, but that it won’t be long before every podunk law enforcement agency in the country is wasting taxpayer money on technology they don’t need to perform tasks that fall well outside their purview.
Are you excited about the possibilites that drones can bring, or do drones frighten you? Share your thoughts in the comments.