An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Commercial air crews are reporting something “unthinkable” in the skies above the Middle East: novel “spoofing” attacks have caused navigation systems to fail in dozens of 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 are flying miles away from their real location. One of the aircraft almost flew into Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, air crews 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. And it’s not just GPS — fallback navigation systems are also corrupted, resulting in total failure. According to OPSGROUP, the activity is centered in three regions: 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.
While GPS spoofing is not new, the specific vector of these new attacks was previously “unthinkable,” according to OPSGROUP, which described them as exposing a “fundamental flaw in avionics design.” The spoofing corrupts the Inertial Reference System, a piece of equipment often described as the “brain” of an aircraft that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other tech to help planes navigate. One expert Motherboard spoke to said this was “highly significant.” “This immediately sounds unthinkable,” OPSGROUP said in its public post about the incidents. “The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance” especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened.” […] There is currently no solution to this problem, with its potentially disastrous effects and unclear cause. According to OPSGROUP’s November update, “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.” If air crews do realize that something is amiss, Humphreys said, their only recourse is to depend on air traffic control.