Hackers are attacking airplanes' GPS systems, causing 'critical navigation failures'

More than 50 recent reports revealed that hackers are launching cyberattacks against airplanes, causing GPS systems to experience "critical navigation failures," the New York Post reported.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a memo to aircraft operators in late September, warning about increased "safety of flight risk to civil aviation operations," according to OpsGroup, an organization of 8,000 international flight operators.

The cyberattacks, referred to as GPS spoofing, hack the navigation system with counterfeit coordinates. While these types of attacks are not new, hackers have recently learned how to override an airplane's Inertial Reference Systems, which provide critical position data. The equipment uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and electronics to help navigate the plane.

In November, OpsGroup noted that it had received 50 reports of GPS spoofing activity. The increase in cyberattacks began in late August.

On October 25, a Gulfstream G650 flying from Tel Aviv "experienced full nav[igation] failure." The flight was 225 nautical miles from its charted course, according to reports.

Another flight out of Tel Aviv on October 16 experienced GPS spoofing.

"The controller warned us that we are flying towards a forbidden area," the report noted.

That same day, a Boeing 777 also experienced GPS spoofing for 30 minutes while flying over Cairo airspace.

The most troubling thing about the attacks is that industry leaders thought these systems could not be hacked, and they are not sure how to prevent future cyberattacks of this nature.

"This immediately sounds unthinkable," OpsGroup said. "The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a stand-alone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance — especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened."

OpsGroup stated, "The industry has been slow to come to terms with the issue, leaving flight crews alone to find ways of detecting and mitigating GPS spoofing."

Patrick Veillette, an aviation expert and former flight operations caption, stated, "Nefarious (though yet to be identified) forces are likely behind this, and the consequences could turn into an international crisis and possibly the loss of an innocent civilian aircraft in a region that is already a high-risk area near an active conflict zone."