Commercial flights face ‘unimaginable’ GPS attacks

Commercial flights face ‘unimaginable’ GPS attacks

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Commercial aviation crews have reported something “unimaginable” in the skies over the Middle East: new “spoofing” attacks have caused navigation systems to fail in dozens of accidents since September. In late September, several commercial flights were stranded near Iran after navigation systems malfunctioned. The planes initially received fake GPS signals, that is, signals designed to fool the aircraft’s systems into thinking they were flying miles away from their true location. One of the planes almost entered Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, flight crews discussing the problem online say it has gotten worse, and experts are racing to determine who is behind it.

OPSGROUP, an international group of pilots and aviation technicians, sounded the alarm about the accidents in September and began collecting data to share with its members and the public. According to OPSGROUP, several commercial aircraft in the Middle East region lost the ability to navigate after receiving false navigational signals for several months. Not only the GPS, but the backup navigation systems are also damaged, leading to a complete failure. According to OPSGROUP, activity is concentrated in three areas: Baghdad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv. The group tracked more than 50 incidents in the past five weeks and identified three new and distinct types of navigation spoofing incidents, two of which have arisen since initial reports in September, the group said in a November update.

While GPS spoofing is not new, the specific vector for these new attacks was previously “unthinkable,” according to OPSGROUP, which described it as revealing a “fundamental avionics design flaw.” Spoofing corrupts the inertial reference system, a piece of equipment often described as the “brain” of the plane that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers and other technology to help planes navigate. One expert Motherboard spoke with said this is “extremely important.” “This immediately seems unthinkable,” OPSGROUP said in its public post about the events. “The IRS (Inertial Reference System) system has to be an independent system, it cannot be fooled. The idea that we could lose all navigation capabilities on the plane and have to ask (air traffic control) where we are and ask for an address makes no sense at a glance.” The first, especially for advanced aircraft equipped with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened. With this problem, flight crews are left on their own to find ways to detect and mitigate GPS spoofing.

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