Sunday, March 18, 2012

US drone downed by GPS spoofing?

US iran droneThe Christian Science Monitor is reporting that the US drone held by Iran may have been brought down using a known GPS spoofing exploit. According to the report, an Iranian engineer working with the captured drone claims that:

Iran guided the CIA’s "lost" stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military.

And indeed, a 2003 report published by the Los Alamos National Laboratory says:

A more pernicious attack involves feeding the GPS receiver fake GPS signals so that it believes it is located somewhere in space and time that it is not. This “spoofing” attack is more elegant than jamming because it is surreptitious. The Vulnerability Assessment Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has demonstrated the ease with which civilian GPS spoofing attacks can be implemented. This spoofing is most easily accomplished by using a GPS satellite simulator. Such simulators are uncontrolled and widely available. To conduct the spoofing attack, an adversary broadcasts a fake GPS signal with a higher signal strength than the true signal. The GPS receiver believes that the fake signal is actually the true GPS signal from space and ignores the true signal. The receiver then proceeds to calculate erroneous position or time information based on this false signal.

Now whether this is true or not, we may never know. But it certainly isn’t beyond the realm of plausibility. And the images circulating online, if real, don’t appear to show any crash damage. It’s no wonder the US military is looking into alternative positioning systems and ways to reduce their dependence on GPS.

Image via

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Atlas Cached says:

    Well, that certainly is an interesting angle 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Spoofing is very well known. If the drone is located, it is prone of the nation, if it is not Somalia or Libya. The trick is two airplanes. First flies above the drone with a directional antenna that transmits in the same line Satellite-Drone. The second plane repeat the genuine GPS signal, which is retransmitted by a laser beam to the first airplane. Changing the position of the second plane, they find out how the drone behaves, and they are able to change the flight direction on their will.

  3. That still doesn’t explain how they got the aircraft to drop it’s landing gear and guide it in to a smooth landing. Just because they tricked it into thinking it’s somewhere it’s not they didn’t hijack the controls. Those kinds of maneuvers are manually controlled by the remote operator. What’s more, the remote operator could have detected the spoof attack and would have taken measures to evade the attackers or destroy the aircraft.

    This report by CSM seems a bit fishy and appears unchecked by technology experts. Sure, spoofing is plausible and tricking the aircrat into thinking it’s somewhere it’s not is one thing, landing a plane virtually unscathed is another.

    • Oops, I read the whole article on CSM website and how they landed the bird makes total sense. Those crafty Iranians.

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