In recent and alarming developments, dozens of commercial flights that are flying over parts of the Middle East reporting experiencing GPS spoofing attacks in recent months. Such attacks deal with transmitting false GPS signals. This in turn tricks the aircraft’s navigation system into thinking they are in a different location than they really are.
This group is composed of pilots and flight technicians and they flagged these incidents back in September 2023.
In the latest November report, there were around 50 reported GPS spoofing attacks reported over a five week period.
The ramifications of such attacks can be deadly. In manipulating an aircrafts perceived location, spoofing can cause pilot to make critical navigation errors which could possibly lead to collisions or even unauthorized incursions into restricted airspace.
These spoofing attacks seem to target the Inertial Reference System (IRS). this is a critical backup navigation system that was thought to be immune to spoofing.
This system takes advantage of using gyroscopes, accelerometers and other advanced equipment which provides navigation guidance pilots visibility is limited.
OPSGROUP expressed their concerns over the vulnerability of the IRS system to spoofing.
“IRS should be a stand alone system, unable to be spoofed.”
They further noted that there have been multiple reports that confirms the success of spoofing the IRS. This development increases the risks associated with these types of attacks.
As the map above shows the OPSGROUP has identified 3 unique spoofing zones in the Middle East.
Top Spoofing Incidents
The most worrying of these spoofing incidents include:
The aviation industries slow response to these incidents has left pilots to devise their own detection and mitigation strategies.
However the increase in reliance on air traffic control, which are already stretched thin by their daily workload, is not a sustainable solution.
University of Texas Professor Todd Humphreys likened these GPS spoofing attacks to a zero day exploit against aviation systems.
This emphasizes the industries unpreparedness and exposures to such attacks. He & other researchers have warned about these IRS spoofing attacks for over a decade.
While we still do not know who the malicious threat actors are carrying out this attack remains unconfirmed.
Suspicions at this point, point towards countries like Israel & Iran.
The potential consequences of these attacks highlights an urgent need for the aviation industry to develop a robust countermeasures and enhance pilot training for them to be able to detect and respond to such incidents in a quick and effective manner.