Iran Claims It Spoofed GPS to Hijack U.S. Drone

GPS vulnerability exposed?

Iran Drone
Iran Drone

Sources within Iran have claimed that the American RQ-170 Sentinel drone shown in celebratory photographs last week was captured by Iran through the use of spoofed GPS signals. The story was first reported in The Christian Science Monitor. An Iranian engineer claimed that his country sent fake GPS signals to the drone, so that its systems were under the impression that it was landing at its home base in Afghanistan, and not in Iran, where it actually touched down.

The strategy, while not officially acknowledged by Iran, would explain the near pristine condition of the craft — its belly, gear, and one wingtip was damaged upon landing — when it was shown off by its captors.

Far from being an isolated incident, the capture of the Sentinel drone seems to highlight a weakness in GPS as a navigation solution. The GPS signals received from orbiting satellites is remarkably weak, so sending false signals to aircraft above is not a difficult feat to achieve technologically. The U.S. military, apparently aware of this vulnerability, has begun development of a more robust system designed to safeguard GPS from such attacks.

The incident also raises fears of terrorists using such jamming techniques to disrupt civil traffic here or in other places around the world.