A U.S. stealth drone in Iranian hands was hijacked by using software that spoofed GPS coordinates, forcing it to land at those coordinates, the Christian Science Monitor reported today.
Hackers reconfigured the GPS system of the RQ-170 Sentinel, forcing it to "land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications," said an unnamed Iranian engineer who said he examined the captured drone.
"The GPS navigation is the weakest point," he told the newspaper. "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain."
Military officials have known about the aircraft's GPS vulnerability since 2003, according to a published report cited by The Register.
"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," the report, titled GPS Spoofing Countermeasures, states. "This 'spoofing' attack is more elegant than jamming because it is surreptitious."
U.S. officials blamed a malfunction for the loss of the drone, which has appeared on Iranian TV in seemingly pristine condition. However, Iranian specialists reportedly studied the wreckage of previously downed drones to pinpoint the vulnerability.