How Terrorists Could Exploit GPS Flaws to Hijack Ships and Planes

Mike O'Brien

A new experiment exploiting flaws in the world’s Global Positioning System (GPS) has revealed a massive potential national security problem.

GPS expert Todd Humphreys and a research team from the University of Texas managed to steer a ship off course using a laptop, a small antenna and an electronic GPS "spoofer" that was built for $3,000.

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The results illustrated how terrorists and hackers could hijack ships and planes, causing untold damage.

The UT team conducted the test aboard a 210ft super-yacht in the Mediterranean Sea.

By feeding counterfeit radio signals to the yacht, the researchers managed to steer the ship way off course. They could turn it to the left and right and even send it on a collision course with another vessel.

The ship’s GPS system, meanwhile, indicated that it was calmly moving along its intended course in a straight line. There was no suggestion of any problem or deviation.

Mr. Humphreys told Fox News: "We injected our spoofing signals into its GPS antennas and we’re basically able to control its navigation system with our spoofing signals."

The ship’s captain, who invited the UT team aboard to carry out the test, said he and the crew were completely unaware they were going off-course.

The use of such technology could have dire consequences, Mr. Humphreys said.

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"For maritime traffic, there are big implications here," he told Fox News. "You’ve got 90 percent of the world’s cargo going across the seas. Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried about."

He added that if terrorists managed to slowly slide a vessel on to a parallel course, the compass might read the same, but the ship could be far from where the crew thinks it is.

"People need to know this kind of thing is possible with a relatively small budget and they can with a very simple system steer the ship off-course -- without the Captain knowing," he said.

Some of the issues raised in this article will be discussed at IDGA’s Cargo Security event in November. For full details, go to