A research team has proven that with the right set of skills, anyone can hijack drones and turn them to weapons against their own masters.
The team from the University of Texas at Austin gained control of a U.S. unmanned drone by spoofing the GPS signals of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The team was acting on a challenge by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to attempt to hijack a drone and gain control of it. That they did at a demonstration in White Sands, New Mexico late this month.
The hijacking of the drone by the researchers proves that Iranians last year could have spoofed a lost U.S. drone.
Back in 2011, a U.S. military drone went missing in Iran. A week later, the drone reappeared in the care of Iranians who claimed that they did just what these researchers have demonstrated: spoofed the drone to gain control of it.
As a result of the demonstration by the researchers, the U.S. Department of Defense is now moving to patch this security hole with their drones.
“I think this demonstration should certainly raise some eyebrows and serve as a wake-up call of sorts as to how safe our critical infrastructure is from spoofing attacks,” said Milton R. Clary, a senior Department of Defense (DoD) Aviation Policy Analyst at Overlook Systems Technologies, in a statement.
“We’re raising the flag early on in this process so there is ample opportunity to improve the security of civilian drones from these attacks, as the government is committed to doing,” said Cockrell School of Engineering Assistant Professor Todd Humphreys who led the demonstrations carried out by his team of students.
Humphreys is very proud of his students, as he was quoted saying in a statement: “During the demonstration at White Sands I was so impressed by how resourceful my students were in the face of technical setbacks we had in the beginning. They kept a steady hand and we prevailed in the end, which really showed me the flexibility of these young and bright minds.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Shepard, the engineering graduate student who led the drone spoofing demonstration said that it is “rewarding to lead research that has an impact on improving national security, and, on a personal level, this specific project had a lot of value for me because I was working on things, like software development, that I typically wouldn’t be involved with as an aerospace student.”
Image from Diablo Azul on Flickr (CC)