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How Easy Is It for Hackers to Disrupt Mobile Navigation?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

So maybe Siri, your cell phone navigator, gives you bad directions. It's an annoyance that anybody with a smart phone and a car knows.

But did you know that hackers could make your GPS steer your car where they want you to go? With a device that costs lest than your cell phone bill, the bad guys could literally take over your life.

It's not like you would follow your GPS into oncoming traffic, probably, but researchers say the technology exists for bad-guy remote control. It's a good thing they aren't the bad guys.

GPS Spoofer

In a collaboration with Microsoft Research, Virginia Tech, and China's University of Electronic Sciences and Technology, researchers have figured out how to do it. They explain it in a new paper -- All Your GPS Are Belong to Us: Towards Stealthy Manipulation of Road Navigation System.

So now that the hackers have the manual, this product should be coming to a Fry's near you. Just kidding; you need a lot of math and coding to make the thing work.

But still, the idea of bad guys stealing my car with me in it is not funny. Fortunately, it's only a "theoretical threat" for now.

"Our study demonstrated the initial feasibility of manipulating the road navigation system through targeted GPS spoofing," the researchers say. "The threat becomes more realistic as car makers are adding autopilot features so that human drivers can be less involved (or completely disengaged)."

Self-Driving Cars

So what they're saying is, you are safe as long as the GPS device is not actually attached to the vehicle. You can still ignore it, like Siri when she starts to get annoying.

But if you get in a self-driving car, you are vulnerable to the vehicle literally taking you where you don't want to go. I think we saw this movie, and it doesn't really end well for humans.

The whole Terminator series is based on a future when people surrender their autonomy to smart machines, who come back to our time in the form of angry cybernetic organisms. Sarah Connor survived for a while, but Arnold Schwarzenegger kept coming back even after he got out of politics.

If it gets scary or confusing, just remember it's just CGI and movie-making or GPS and driving. It's not real, right?

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