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UT Grads hack Yacht with GPS device

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Two UT Grad students and researchers say very vulnerable. They can make this claim after their custom made-GPS spoofer attacked a vessel at sea and successfully changed its course with no alarms and no warnings.

They say this demonstration clearly shows the weakness in our GPS system and the danger it poses to our transportation system.

"The main point we are trying to say is you can't trust the little blue dot on the GPS," said UT Grad Student Jashan Bhatti.

These two UT Grad students suggest the government should spend the money and take action soon to protect Americans against GPS spoofing.

"GPS spoofing is a method where you transmit fake signals towards a GPS receiver and the GPS receiver doesn't know the difference between our fake GPS and authentic and believes its going in a different place," said Bhatti.

Led by Assistant UT Professor Todd Humphreys of the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering, Grad students researchers Jashan Bhatti and Daniel Shepard were able to spoof the GPS system aboard an $80 million yacht.

"We told the crew to operate the vessel normally and I did my stuff on the spoofer and suddenly they were going off course," Bhatti said.

Unlike GPS signal blocking or jamming, spoofing triggers no alarms. They say one day if a patch isn't developed, this weakness could open the door for terrorists.

"You could be on the ship or on a plane.. or you could be on another vessel two-three miles away," Bhatti said. "If you have more autopilots this could be more of a problem." 

The problem Bhatti says the attack is a field attack.

"It deals with radio waves. Anything that deals with radio waves is inherently vulnerable. You can always generate your own radio waves to counteract the authentic waves," Bhatti said.

That includes telecommunications systems like intercepting cell phone towers, even worse sending an airplane off track and power companies.

"You could see small blackouts and possibility for cascading blackouts if right circumstances happen... it's the perfect storm," Shepard said. "If you shut down the wrong transmission at wrong time you could get cascading failures."

Last year their GPS spoofer they created helped intercept drones.

Shephard doesn't think the government is doing enough.

"They don't right now there are absolutely off the shelf defenses against this type of attack," Shepard said.

Both say after congressional hearings last year on their device and talks with the government, they are still waiting for action.

"They are definitely interested in fixing the problem but it just comes down to money," Shepard said.

Both students say their message to the government is invest the money to secure our transportation system from attacks.

It took five years to develop the spoofer but they fear others could soon develop one faster and put the code online putting everyone in danger.

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