Inexpensive Hack Spoofs GPS in Smartphones, Drones

August 10, 2015  - By
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Image: GPS World

Researchers at Qihoo 360, a Chinese Internet security firm, say they have found a way to make a GPS emulator that can falsify the location of smartphones and in-car navigation systems, reports Forbes. The system is inexpensive compared to expensive, sophisticated GPS emulators that can cost thousands of dollars.

Qihoo’s researchers hacked a Tesla Model S in 2014, taking control of the car’s lock, horn and flashing lights.

Qihoo lead researcher Lin Huang is the first Chinese woman to present at the yearly hacker conference Defcon, held in Las Vegas on Aug. 6-9. Huang said her team used common software-defined radio (SDR) tools to create their module and software. They also used open-source software found on Github that had come from researchers at a Chinese university, along with their own code.

The SDR tools used include HackRF, described by Forbes as the $300 wireless Swiss army knife for hackers. The small board can move between radio frequencies, and read and transmit to a broad range of radio frequencies. On smartphones, the attack targets navigation signals delivered at the chipset level, on both Apple or Android smartphones.

Huang suggests that chipset manufacturers consider introducing new software that can better detect GPS spoofing.

One potential target of such spoofing is a drone., which could be commandeered by the spoofer and taken into restricted airspace. Alternatively, it’s possible to make drones believe they’re in a no-fly area.

The Qihoo team demonstrated such attacks using the free and open source GNU Radio, among other tools, to alter the GPS coordinates on a DJI Phantom 3. In a video at Forbes,  filmed from a drone-mounted camera, the hackers force a UAV to crash land.

The researchers said the weaknesses could be fixed by DJI and other drone makers, but they would have to do so at the GPS chip level, meaning any drones already out there are unlikely to receive an update.

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