Published in Transportation

Planes flying near Iran suffer from GPS spoofing

by on21 November 2023

Being tricked to fly over Iran

Commercial air crews are novel "spoofing" attacks designed to trick their navigation systems to fly into Iranian airspace.

There have been dozens of reported incidents since September. In late September, multiple commercial flights near Iran went astray after navigation systems went blind.

The planes first received spoofed GPS signals, meaning signals designed to fool planes' systems into thinking they were flying miles from their actual location.

One of the aircraft almost flew into Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, aircrews discussing the problem online have said it's only gotten worse, and experts are racing to establish who is behind it.

OPSGROUP, an international group of pilots and flight technicians, sounded the alarm about the incidents in September and began to collect data to share with its members and the public.

According to OPSGROUP, multiple commercial aircraft in the Middle Eastern region have lost the ability to navigate after receiving spoofed navigation signals for months. Fallback navigation systems are also corrupted.

OPSGROUP said the activity centres around Baghdad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv.

The group has tracked more than 50 incidents in the last five weeks, the group said in a November update, and identified three new and distinct kinds of navigation spoofing incidents, with two arising since the initial reports in September.

According to Motherboard, the attack should be impossible because the IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all onboard nav capability and have to ask [air traffic control] for a position and heading “makes little sense at first glance."

There is currently no solution to this problem, with its potentially disastrous effects and unclear cause.

 OPSGROUP's November update states: "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." Humphreys said that if aircrews realise something is amiss, their only recourse is to depend on air traffic control.

Last modified on 21 November 2023
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