There’s a new threat to airline safety that’s much more insidious than a passenger going to the bathroom barefoot. Airlines are reporting GPS-based spoofing attacks that blind navigation systems and disable backup navigation systems, leaving pilots completely blind, Vice reports.
Over the last five weeks, at least 50 incidents have been reported, mostly centered around three cities — Baghdad, Cairo and Tel Aviv. One plane reportedly came close to crossing into Iranian airspace as a result of the spoofed GPS signals it was receiving. Since the first attack, the methods used have only gotten more sophisticated, and, at least for now, no one knows how to stop or prevent them.
According to OPSGROUP, an international organization made up of pilots and flight technicians, the attacks target the Inertial Reference System that planes use to figure out where they are. In a statement on the attacks, OPSGROUP said:
This immediately sounds unthinkable. The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance— especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened.
To make things even more complicated, it’s unlikely that these spoofing attacks are the work of a single organization or government. A researcher at the University of Texas at Austin was recently able to locate the source of one spoofing attack in Iran and later located another in Israel.
“The strong and persistent spoofing we’re seeing over Israel since around October 15 is almost certainly being carried out by Israel itself,” UT Austin professor Todd Humphreys told Vice. “The IDF effectively admitted as much to a reporter with Haartz.”