Modern Cars Can Be Hacked — Boats and Planes Next?

Nicholas West
Activist Post

The question of whether or not modern cars can be hacked has been answered in the wake of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of journalist Michael Hastings.

Dr. Kathleen Fisher spoke in 2012 about DARPA’s High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program, making it clear that all modern cars could be vulnerable to hacking and solutions need to be found.

Additional concerns are now being raised about the role GPS systems could play in making it possible to hack boats, planes and other GPS-reliant systems.

GPS tracking and positioning technology was brought to us by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Apparently, DARPA has done such a good job thoroughly embedding GPS into military applications, as well as permitting it to trickle down to “civilian devices,” that it has permeated nearly all of modern life.

As stated by Arati Prabhakar, head of DARPA, “sometimes a capability is so powerful that our reliance on it, in itself, becomes a vulnerability.”

As Extreme Tech reports, this vulnerability can be exploited very easily, and very cheaply:

About a year ago, Todd Humphreys and his team from the University of Texas called GPS navigation into serious question. Using just a few simple pieces of equipment, a roughly $3,000 investment dwarfed by what cyber-criminals often invest in hardware, they were able to steer a small drone badly off course. It was a blunt instrument, just capable of messing with the drone’s sense of direction and, potentially, sending it careening into the ground. The demonstration was so worrying that Humphreys soon found himself testifying before Congress, and sitting in meetings with everyone from the FAA to the Pentagon.

The same hole used to exploit GPS to down the drone still exists, and Humphrey’s team has upped their game by further improving their capability to interfere with GPS:

This week, they boarded a 210-foot super-yacht by the name of White Rose of the Drachs and used the exact same technique to leave its captain and crew stunned and helpless. 

All you have to do is introduce a signal stronger than the one generated by these satellites. 

With just a laptop, a small antenna, and a GPS “spoofing” device, the team fed a stronger signal to the yacht’s steering system than the genuine one, incoming from actual GPS satellites… 

This is an insidious form of attack because the ship’s navigation technology will continue to report that the ship is both on course and precisely where it is supposed to be — even if neither of those things is true…

The team was able to steer the ship to port or starboard at will, and the crew was totally unaware that anything was wrong. Captain Andrew Schofield told Fox News he was “gobsmacked,” when he found out what had been done to his ship, as was the entire deck team. His $80 million baby could have easily been run into a sandbar or reef…  

This spoofing attack undermines the trust these professionals put in their navigation systems. Even slightly interfering with a large amount of sea traffic could hamper trading ports, and potentially throw a wrench into large-scale economies. 

The threat extends to any type of transportation that uses GPS, which of course includes planes. The same type of attack could be used to steer a plane, or planes, off course, causing mid-air collisions or worse. However, at least with boats and planes there is a possible human override. Not so with unmanned systems. In fact, drones already have been revealed as open to hacking and viruses, as Dr. Kathleen Fisher also confirmed in the video above, but apparently Congress is not sufficiently concerned to thwart the entrance of drones to American skies by 2015.

Beyond drones, what about GPS-directed munitions? These are the scenarios that become worrisome at a whole different level.

Extreme Tech closes their article with a solution: “implement the P(Y)-code encryption used by military assets in a wider range of civilian technology.”
However, DARPA has already moved in another direction, which may indicate the increased news coverage about GPS vulnerability. Whether or not the threat is real, they are using it to explore the idea of an “autonomous chip.”

The world has apparently become so dependent on GPS, that mega defense contractor, Raytheon, offers the following infographic – “Imagine The World Without GPS” – to illustrate the comprehensive concern:

Click graphic to enlarge. Source: Raytheon

Naturally, the original source of what has now become a problem is offering the solution.  DARPA seeks to augment or perhaps eliminate the reliance on satellites altogether by establishing a new system that relies on microchips:

The tiny chip holds three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and an atomic clock, which, together, work as an autonomous navigation system

DARPA envisages using this technology to replace GPS in some contexts, especially in small-caliber ammunition or for monitoring people. (emphasis added) [Source]

The official DARPA press release entitled, “Extreme Miniaturization: Seven Devices, One Chip to Navigate Without GPS” is worth reading in its entirety as it is a perfect example of why we should never feel safe looking to the military-industrial complex for safety. Using our tax dollars, they all but admit that the GPS technology with which they have marked the world is severely compromised. And, naturally, it is that waste of money that requires us to throw more money into the solution, even as they supposedly could not have envisioned the threat from the beginning.

This project might be a massive boondoggle, since it is slightly strange that the call to augment or replace GPS was publicized one year ago by DARPA, and is being openly developed. If the scenarios for creating mass havoc on the cheap are to be believed, this would not be a smart announcement to make.

It is almost certain that we will be increasingly subjected to potential scenarios designed to convince us that every “bad actor” from North Korea to Anonymous to any common low-rent terrorist is set to bring down planes, the economy, and whatever else will get us to welcome the latest round of ubiquitous surveillance and tracking technology.

Additional Sources:

Read other articles by Nicholas West Here 

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