In Chilling Demo, UT GPS Expert Hijacks a Yacht at Sea [Watch]

UT engineer and GPS expert Todd Humphreys has long been an outspoken voice for the relatively new problem of GPS security. In 2011, Humphreys demonstrated how scarily easy it can be to hijack a drone, and last summer, he gave alarming testimony in Congress about the risks of GPS hijacking: “I am worried that it could be a weapon in the arsenal of organized crime, or state actors, or organized terrorists,” Humphreys said at the time.

Now, in a feat worthy of James Bond, Humphreys and his research team have once again demonstrated just how serious a threat GPS security may be—not just in the air, but also at sea. About 30 miles off the coast of Italy last month, the UT researchers successfully “spoofed,” or hijacked the sophisticated navigation system of a private yacht worth $80 million.

The research team was invited aboard the 213-foot super-yacht, called the White Rose of Drachs, by its private owner. A Cockrell School of Engineering animation, above, demonstrates exactly how they gained control of the boat: by sending counterfeit GPS signals to overpower the yacht’s internal navigation and send it off course. The attack triggered no alarms and could have easily gone undetected, according to a UT press release.

“We have to gain a better understanding of the broader implications of GPS spoofing,” Humphreys said. “I didn’t know, until we performed this experiment, just how possible it is to spoof a marine vessel and how difficult it is to detect this attack.”


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