Gps spoofing of a military drone

Season 2 of the Sentryo Files strives to dig deeper into the most emblematic cyberattacks. Read on to find out about an attack targeted at diverting a stealth drone.

Iran commandeers a US drone

In 2011, Iranian engineers led an attack to take remote control of a US military stealth drone. Find out how the attack was carried out and the lessons learned from the vulnerabilities of GPS systems.

A complex cyberattack carried out in several stages

This is not the first time that tensions between Iran and the United States have inspired an article in the Sentryo magazine. Since the attack of the Stuxnet worm in 2010 and the malware infection of various Iranian petrochemical plants in 2016, Iran has often been the victim of targeted cyberattacks. However, the United States also seems to have paid a price as a result of Iran’s commandeering of their drone. An interview in Christian Science Monitor with an Iranian engineer in charge of exploiting the stolen drone sheds some light on how the attack was carried out.

The modus operandi of the attack

Iranian specialists first endeavored to understand the navigation and remote piloting systems of US drones by studying previous downed models. With this information, they were able to commandeer the RQ-170 Sentinel drone in 2 steps:

  1. Jamming communications to force the drone into autopilot mode and to land back at its base.
  2. GPS spoofing to trick the drone into landing in Iranian territory (instead of at its home base in Afghanistan).

Powerful means

The means used to carry out this cyber incident are complex: reverse engineering downed or captured drones, jamming communications and emitting powerful false GPS signals. This cyberattack had various consequences:

  • theft of equipment and sensitive data
  • a display of technical capacities being put to strategic aims

Vulnerability of the GPS signals exploited to commandeer the drone

This cyberattack could have been anticipated: the US military knew about the vulnerability of the GPS signal. Risk prevention, based on the identification of system vulnerabilities, was not correctly carried out.

Spoofing the GPS signals

GPS spoofing is a way to take remote control of an aircraft piloted by GPS. Satellite-based geopositioning systems are not entirely protected and their vulnerabilities expose the devices and systems that depend on them.

When it comes to developing self-driving cars (let’s not forget the hacking of a connected Jeep) and other assisted navigation systems, the vulnerabilities of geopositioning systems must be addressed. To ensure their security, these systems must be protected starting in the conception phase and then monitored by tailored cybersecurity solutions.

Relive the scene from the film Interstellar from 2014 when the hero hacks an Indian drone: