Researchers from a number of renowned institutions including Virginia Tech, the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and Microsoft Research have concluded that it is possible to spoof GPS signals and send people in the wrong direction.
The ironic part is that such an advanced technology can be spoofed using equipment worth no more than $250. The equipment can deceive GPS signals and switch original maps with ghost maps, which appear exactly like the original ones but are merely a delusion.
Researchers tested their findings in a range of attacks launched at nighttime in Chengdu, China. They tested the research’s authenticity in a Ford Escape, and two different mobile phones models (one from Xiaomi having Android v 8.0 and the other a Huawei phone having Android v 6.0) running navigation software by Google were used.
The hack was carried out using an algorithm that scanned for map layouts replicating the real maps; once this was achieved, it became possible to insert a “ghost location” in place of the real map, which the vehicle driver will use unsuspectingly. The entire feat was pulled-off without alerting the driver or raising any alarms; researchers further identified that their algorithm lets the attacker lure victims to any selected location.
“The algorithm crafts the GPS inputs to the target device such that the triggered navigation instruction and displayed routes on the map remain consistent with the physical road network. In the physical world, the victim who follows the instruction would be led to a wrong route (or a wrong destination),” researchers wrote in their paper titled “All Your GPS Are Belong To Us: Towards Stealthy Manipulation of Road Navigation Systems” available for downloading here.
The algorithm has been tested with traffic simulators across China and the US and can work in real-time using a portable GPS-spoofing tool that cost only $223. It can be attached to any vehicle or put on a car that tracks another one from a distance of up to 50m. Around 1547 attacking routes have been identified by the algorithm for every single target trip and the attack was found to be successful on 95 percent of all human testers.
“38 out of 40 participants (95%) follow the navigation to all the wrong destinations….If the attacker aims to endanger the victim, the algorithm can successfully craft special attack route that contains wrong-ways for 99.8% of the trips,” researchers claim.
The research is truly significant because all the GPS spoofing techniques or attacks identified so far have remained unsuccessful in deceiving humans as the fake instructions were never in-sync with the original maps. But this one definitely does fool humans by successfully replicating the road layout immaculately. The method is compatible with all GPS-enabled road navigation systems including those deployed on vehicles (both self-driving and normal), mobile phones, couriers and car-sharing services.
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