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UT Researchers Spoof $80M Yacht Off Course

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 04:13 PM CDT

GPS technology for boaters is crucial, especially when you can no longer see the shoreline. Now University of Texas engineering students have found a way to deceive your GPS signal and make you think you're somewhere you aren't.

It's called spoofing. Spoofing mimics the GPS signals that are coming from satellites to trick a receiver into thinking it's somewhere it's not. The military has used it for years, but now for the first time UT students have found a way to spoof the average boater.

"A lot of fishing vessels have GPS trackers on them that governments use, particularly in Europe to control where they're going in fishing waters. So somebody can take a Spoofer onto their boat and make the governments' think they're fishing where they're supposed to," says Daniel Shepard, UT graduate student, aerospace engineering.

Spoofing can send a captain and crew into No man's land and they won't know they're off track until it's too late. UT tested spoofing out this summer in Italy. They boarded an $80 million yacht and were able to take the boat a mile off its course before the crew realized something wasn't adding up. So why create this tool that could potentially be dangerous to boaters?

"What we're working on right now is actually how to fix the problem. A lot of these experiments have been to expose this issue to not just the general public, but also to researchers and different application areas, things like the power grid and power communications, aviation and maritime travel that are all vulnerable to this type of attack," says Shepard.

Unfortunately right now there aren't too many defenses against spoofing for the average boater.

"The most effective method against spoofing is cryptographic defenses. The military signal already has this, but there's no open public version of this signal available," says Jahshan Bhatti, UT Graduate student, aerospace technology.

Bhatti and Shepard say they hope to create a line of defense that could one day be available to everyone.

UT Researchers Spoof $80M Yacht Off Course

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