Could NextGen Be Hacked?

RenderMan incorporates “ghost planes” with ADS-B traffic.

An NPR story this week brought some disturbing information to light about the potential for hacking the new, high-tech NextGen air traffic management system the FAA is developing. A Canadian hacker, Brad “RenderMan” Haines, claims he has found a way to transmit ADS-B signals from a simple home-based simulator that can be introduced as “ghost planes” that ATC would not be able to distinguish from real airplanes.

Haines created a presentation, which he recently delivered at the Defcon hacker’s conference in Las Vegas, that highlights what he says are flaws in the NextGen system that could potentially be used by malicious hackers to compromise safety. Haines says that the data block of an ADS-B signal looks “a lot like any other network package.” He said he believes a hacker could not only introduce “ghost planes,” but also “introduce slight variations in real flights.”

Haines even goes so far as to claim there is potential to completely jam the ADS-B system. He also claims hackers could introduce false GPS information to airplanes using ADS-B In and even use remote steering in some cases. “Iran may have used this technique to capture [the] U.S. drone,” his presentation states.

Haines states “I want to be wrong!” But this Youtube video shows how Haines and his partner Nick Foster were able to incorporate a simulated airplane from the FlightGear software with real time airplanes near San Francisco (SFO). According to NPR’s report, the only thing needed to broadcast the information would be to connect “an antenna and amplifier to their radio, and turn it on.”