Students Take Control of £50m Superyacht Using Fake GPS Signals

By Ashley Feinberg on at

By sending fake GPS data to a superyacht's navigation system, University of Texas students were able to override the actual GPS signals and send a £50 million ship veering off course without rousing any suspicions whatsoever. Well, they would have got away with it -- if it wasn't a controlled experiment, that is.

The group, led by professor Todd Humphreys, used a device directed towards the ship that sent out false, very weak GPS signals — at first. But slowly, they would increase the signal strength until it eventually overpowered the legitimate satellite signals beaming down at the (privately owned, professionally staffed) superyacht. This way, the spoof is nearly undetectable by the time it reaches full force, no alarms sound, and the ship is steadily on its way to — well, wherever the hell you want.

Of course, since this was a controlled experiment, the spoof was performed with the yacht owner's full permission, but it exposes a major, potentially highly dangerous flaw in land and sea transportation networks, even if ships don't rely solely on GPS signals, as commenter ScyBy points out. And according to the Houston Chronicle, about 90 per cent of the world's freight is transported overseas.

There are a few ways to patch up this hole, but considering other transportations systems—such as planes, for instance—might be equally vulnerable, this relatively simple, nearly unnoticeable attack could do some major damage in the wrong hands. [Chron via Digg]