GPS Spoofing in Aircrafts: The New Age Jeopardy in the Aviation Industry

Dr. Preethi Amaresh
Dr. Preethi Amaresh
Lead - Policy & Advocacy, CyberPeace
Mar 27, 2024


“GPS Spoofing” though formerly was confined to conflict zones as a consequence, has lately become a growing hazard for pilots and aircraft operators across the world, and several countries have been facing such issues. This definition stems from the US Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, which delivers specialized advice for government regulatory authorities. Global Positioning System (GPS) is considered an emergent part of aviation infrastructure as it supersedes traditional radio beams used to direct planes towards the landing. “GPS spoofing” occurs when a double-dealing radio signal overrides a legitimate GPS satellite alert where the receiver gets false location information. In the present times, this is the first time civilian passenger flights have faced such a significant danger, though GPS signal interference of this character has existed for over a decade. According to the Agency France-Presse (AFP), false GPS signals mislead onboard plane procedures and problematise the job of airline pilots that are surging around conflict areas. GPS spoofing may also be the outcome of military electronic warfare systems that have been deployed in zones combating regional tension. GPS spoofing can further lead to significant upheavals in commercial aviation, which include arrivals and departures of passengers apart from safety.

Spoofing might likewise involve one country’s military sending false GPS signals to an enemy plane or drone to impede its capability to operate, which has a collateral impact on airliners operating at a near distance. Collateral impairment in commercial aircraft can occur as confrontations escalate and militaries send faulty GPS signals to attempt to thwart drones and other aircraft. It could, therefore, lead to a global crisis, leading to the loss of civilian aircraft in an area already at a high-risk zone close to an operational battle area. Furthermore, GPS jamming is different from GPS Spoofing. While jamming is when the GPS signals are jammed or obstructed, spoofing is very distinct and way more threatening. 

Global Reporting

An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assessment released in 2019 indicated that there were 65 spoofing incidents across the Middle East in the preceding two years, according to the C4ADS report. At the beginning of 2018, Euro control received more than 800 reports of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) interference in Europe. Also, GPS spoofing in Eastern Europe and the Middle East has resulted in up to 80nm divergence from the flight route and aircraft impacted have had to depend on radar vectors from Air Traffic Control (ATC). According to Forbes, flight data intelligence website OPSGROUP, constituted of 8,000 members including pilots and controllers, has been reporting spoofing incidents since September 2023. Similarly, over 20 airlines and corporate jets flying over Iran diverted from their planned path after they were directed off the pathway by misleading GPS signals transmitted from the ground, subjugating the navigation systems of the aircraft.  

In this context, vicious hackers, however at large, have lately realized how to override the critical Inertial Reference Systems (IRS) of an airplane, which is the essential element of technology and is known by the manufacturers as the “brains” of an aircraft. However, the current IRS is not prepared to counter this kind of attack. IRS uses accelerometers, gyroscopes and electronics to deliver accurate attitude, speed, and navigation data so that a plane can decide how it is moving through the airspace. GPS spoofing occurrences make the IRS ineffective, and in numerous cases, all navigation power is lost.

Red Flag from Agencies

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) correspondingly hosted a workshop on incidents where people have spoofed and obstructed satellite navigation systems and inferred that these direct a considerable challenge to security. IATA and EASA have further taken measures to communicate information about GPS tampering so that crew and pilots can make sure to determine when it is transpiring. The EASA had further pre-cautioned about an upsurge in reports of GPS spoofing and jamming happenings in the Baltic Sea area, around the Black Sea, and regions near Russia and Finland in 2022 and 2023. According to industry officials, empowering the latest technologies for civil aircraft can take several years, and while GPS spoofing incidents have been increasing, there is no time to dawdle. Experts have noted critical navigation failures on airplanes, as there have been several recent reports of alarming cyber attacks that have changed planes' in-flight GPS. As per experts, GPS spoofing could affect commercial airlines and cause further disarray. Due to this, there are possibilities that pilots can divert from the flight route, further flying into a no-fly zone or any unauthorized zone, putting them at risk.

According to OpsGroup, a global group of pilots and technicians first brought awareness and warning to the following issue when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a forewarning on the security of flight risk to civil aviation operations over the spate of attacks. In addition, as per the civil aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), a forewarning circular on spoofing threats to planes' GPS signals when flying over parts of the Middle East was issued. DGCA advisory further notes the aviation industry is scuffling with uncertainties considering the contemporary dangers and information of GNSS jamming and spoofing. 


As the aviation industry continues to grapple with GPS spoofing problems, it is entirely unprepared to combat this, although the industry should consider discovering attainable technologies to prevent them. As International conflicts become convoluted, technological solutions are unrestricted and can be pricey, intricate and not always efficacious depending on what sort of spoofing is used.

As GPS interference attacks become more complex, specialized resolutions should be invariably contemporized. Improving education and training (to increase awareness among pilots, air traffic controllers and other aviation experts), receiver technology (Creating and enforcing more state-of-the-art GPS receiver technology), ameliorating monitoring and reporting (Installing robust monitoring systems), cooperation (collaboration among stakeholders like government bodies, aviation organisations etc.), data/information sharing, regulatory measures (regulations and guidelines by regulatory and government bodies) can help in averting GPS spoofing.


Mar 27, 2024
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