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Hackers can fake radio signals to hijack aircraft landing systems, warn researchers. Attackers could potentially change the course of a flight using $600 worth of commercially available equipment

Hackers could hijack the systems used to guide planes by compromising and spoofing the radio signals that are used during landing.

That’s according to a team of researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, who have detailed their research in a recently published white paper.

“Modern aircraft heavily rely on several wireless technologies for communications, control, and navigation. Researchers demonstrated vulnerabilities in many aviation systems,” said the academics.

“However, the resilience of the aircraft landing systems to adversarial wireless attacks have not yet been studied in the open literature, despite their criticality and the increasing availability of low-cost software-defined radio (SDR) platforms.”

After analysing the instrument system waveforms, the researchers found that hackers can spoof such radio signals using commercially available tools.

With them, attackers are able to cause last-minute go-around decisions and even make the plane miss its landing zone in low-visibility scenarios.

“We first show that it is possible to fully and in fine-grain control the course deviation indicator, as displayed by the ILS receiver, in real time, and demonstrate it on aviation-grade ILS receivers. We analyze the potential of both an overshadowing attack, and a lower-power single-tone attack,” they explained.

To demonstrate the severity of these vulnerabilities, the research team also developed a tightly-controlled closed-loop ILS spoofer.