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University students fake GPS signal, misdirect $80 million yacht

It turns out that the GPS signal guiding you to your summer vacation or to a client meeting could easily be hacked.

A team of students managed to distort a GPS signal near an $80 million yacht, sending it off course on the open seas.

The university students at the University of Texas at Austin set out to see if they could “spoof” the GPS signal being received by navigation equipment.

Their test subject: a giant 213-foot $80 million yacht travelling just south off the coast of Italy, on its way from Monaco to Rhodes, Greece.

Well, the students didn't exactly hijack the luxury vessel without asking. They did have permission to board the White Rose of Drachs – but the findings of the experiment may bring about uninvited consequences.

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From the upper deck of the boat, the students emitted a faint GPS signal from a device the size of a briefcase.

Directing the signal toward the ship’s GPS antennas, the students gradually turned up the strength of their spoofed signal to drown out the signal sent by real GPS satellites.

And then, they began transmitting a spoofed location that was slightly different than where the yacht was really located.

Little by little, the crew noticed their location was slightly off-course. So, they would turn the ship to correct the direction.

So while the GPS map in front of the yacht’s crew showed it was going in a straight line, the students could see the ship’s wake was leaving a “pronounced curve.”

This is almost like what Elliot Carver and his evil henchmen did in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

All this just shows how GPS isn’t all that secure – especially when it comes to devices such as ships and planes that rely on it to guide their path.

Do you think more needs to be done to secure GPS navigation systems?

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- Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets



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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.