top of page

Emergent Threat of GPS Interference in Civil Aviation



Summary:

There's a recent surge in GPS hacking incidents affecting civilian aircraft in the Middle East. Over 50 incidents of GPS spoofing have been reported, where civilian planes experienced critical navigation failures. These events challenge the previous aviation industry's assurances of the improbability of such attacks. The incidents have caused significant concern among aviation professionals, and currently, there is a lack of effective countermeasures to this form of electronic warfare.


The phenomenon, known as "GPS spoofing," involves feeding false GPS signals to manipulate an aircraft's navigation systems. This type of attack is not novel; however, its scale and the targeted focus on civilian aircraft are unprecedented. Previous incidents involving smaller scale or isolated examples of GPS interference have been documented, but the current wave of attacks has affected a broader swathe of the Middle Eastern airspace, notably over Israel, Egypt, and Iraq.


Incident Reports:

Over the last month, reports of GPS spoofing incidents have been documented by OPSGROUP, indicating a real-world vulnerability in avionics systems that leaves aircraft unable to detect when a GPS signal has been faked. This has led to total navigation failures in some cases and subtle, undetected erroneous tracking in others​​. Notably, since a report published on September 26, two new types of GPS spoofing have been identified, causing critical navigation failures in areas departing from Tel Aviv and showing aircraft in a stationary position over LLBG in the Cairo FIR​​.


GPS spoofing reported by flight crews in the last month include:

  • A Gulfstream G650 and a Bombardier Global Express departing from Tel Aviv on October 25 and October 16 respectively, experiencing full navigation failures or being misled towards prohibited airspace​​.

  • A Boeing 777 and a Bombardier Global 7500 in the Cairo FIR on October 16 being spoofed, with the latter experiencing the failure of GPS and all three Inertial Reference Systems (IRS) across three separate instances​​.

  • An Embraer Legacy 650 in Baghdad airspace losing GPS and IRS functionality, and a Bombardier Challenger 604 needing vectors all the way to Doha due to spoofing incidents​​.A Gulfstream G650 departing from Tel Aviv experienced complete navigation failure, veering 225 nautical miles off course.

  • A Boeing 777 over Cairo was misinterpreted as stationary for thirty minutes due to spoofed GPS data.

Operational Implications:

The attacks have led to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issuing warnings about the risks to civil aviation. OpsGroup, an organization of aviation professionals, has highlighted the industry's slow response in addressing these threats, leaving crews to manage the risks independently during critical flight phases.


Strategic Insights:

  • The source of the spoofing has been tentatively traced to the outskirts of Tehran by researchers.

  • Israel has acknowledged restricting GPS as a security measure in combat zones, suggesting a potential military dimension to the phenomenon.

  • The lack of preparedness against GPS spoofing in aviation systems poses a stark vulnerability, with potential implications for international air safety standards and regulatory practices.

Recommendations:

  1. Immediate collaboration between civil aviation authorities, aircraft manufacturers, and cybersecurity experts to develop detection and mitigation strategies.

  2. Accelerated research into alternative navigation systems that are less susceptible to spoofing.

  3. Enhanced training for flight crews on manual navigation and emergency procedures in case of GPS failure.

  4. International diplomatic engagement to address the use of GPS spoofing in the context of electronic warfare, potentially via the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Conclusion:

The increasing prevalence of GPS spoofing incidents presents a grave threat to the safety and security of civilian air travel. The industry must act rapidly to develop effective defenses and ensure that air crews are equipped to handle navigation without reliance on potentially compromised GPS data.



bottom of page