On a dare, Texas college researchers hacked into and hijacked a drone of the US Homeland Security before the eyes of the officials operating it.
Using a technique called ‘spoofing’ where a signal from hackers imitates the one sent to the drone’s on-board GPS, the Researchers managed to take control of a small but powerful drone in mid-air.
The hostile takeover of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owned by the college was done before the weary eyes of DHS officials, Fox News reported.
During the experiment conducted at the University of Texas stadium, the small red drone soared into the sky following a clear set of commands entered into its computer.
Shortly after, the aircraft veered to the side, making it obvious that it was no longer following its original orders.
Then, the drone hurtled toward the ground as if given a self-destruct command and was saved in the last moment.
And the hijacking was just for a USD 1,000 wager.
But the incident has unnerved American Homeland security officials, as the spoofing has made it possible for anyone with a USD 1,000 and a plan to turn a harmless UAV into a missile and crash it into a building.
The hijackers team led by Professor Todd Humphreys at Austin Radio-navigation Laboratory said his team for a few hundred dollars was able to build the most sophisticated spoofing system yet that tricked the drone into following a new set of commands.
“Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” Humphreys said.
The stadium display was not the first time government officials witnessed spoofing in action.
Last Tuesday, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Homeland Security watched as Humphreys’ team repeatedly hijacked a drone from a remote hilltop in the desert of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The implications of the experiments are both far-reaching and unsettling since the government is currently considering plans that will allow local law enforcement agencies and other groups to employ scores of drones in US airspace.
It is believed that a US drone was brought down in Iran last December when someone jammed its GPS system
Drones have been widely used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to take out terror suspects. Domestically, the use of UAVs has been limited to southern border patrols.