Die By Wire’s AirBus GPS Hacking: It’s Real, Bro’

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I’ve taken more than a few licks from skeptical readers who dispute the possibility of aircraft GPS hacking that plays a key role in my thriller, Die By Wire.

It doesn’t particularly matter to those folks that I research the living hell out of what I put into my thrillers. Whether it’s the science, the history or the weapons, you can count on them being accurate and the consequences somewhere between probably or certain.

Yes, the fly-by-wire systems on a modern aircraft are a meatspace version of Flight Simulator and the computers have verifiably malfunctioned and can be hacked.And one of the most vulnerable components is the Global Positioning System – GPS.

In fact, GPS vulnerabilities have been known widely since this 2001 U.S. Department of Transportation study: Volpe GPS Vulnerability. In the past 12 years, many of the hacks and spoofs that were feared in 2001 have come true.


Some GPS and aviation exploits have been reported to authorities, others have been covered up for fear that nobody would want to fly on an aircraft that’s a glorified video game controlled by a computer joy stick

Note: Spoofing and hacking are often used interchangeably. Spoofing is the preferred term for unauthorized intrusions into the radio signals that communicate with satellites, drones, GPS and other distant systems.


Civilian GPS — from an Airbus or oil tanker all the way doewn to your Garmin or smartphone — relies on UNencrypted signals. Unencrypted = easy spoof.

The military uses encrypted GPS which is more resistant to spoofing, but not invulnerable. Indeed, every global military is developing alternatives to GPS whose signals are very weak and easy to spoof and disrupt.

For more on that see: US Army Explores GPS Replacement and New GPS Rival Is Hack-Proof).

Oh … and that last headline is badly worded.

Nothing is hack-proof. There are two kinds of computer and electronic systems: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked. Count on it.


Semi-spoiler alert: It wasn’t just coincidence that I chose laptops as the means for the GPS hack/spoof in Die By Wire.

Research shows that “Up to 30 percent of the world’s Global Positioning System infrastructure could be taken offline by a 45-second message sent from equipment that costs only $2,500.”

Click here for the scientific paper with all the details of the link above: GPS Software Hacking


According to a recent PBS segment (Researchers Show Potential Power of GPS Spoofing):

“In June, a 213-foot luxury yacht sailed off the southern coast of Italy, when, suddenly, it veered off course. But this was no sinister act worthy of a spy flick. Instead, a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin had deliberately coerced the $80 million vessel from its track, without physically taking the helm.”

Another telling of that tale from a scientific web site offer more details: UT Austin researchers successfully spoof an $80 million yacht at sea


But, maybe you should avoid reading Die By Wire on your next trip.

More about Die By Wire and my other thrillers at LewisPerdue.com

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4 Responses to “Die By Wire’s AirBus GPS Hacking: It’s Real, Bro’”

  1. Katla Sieltjes 4 August 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Visionary, Lewis. And no matter how much effort you put in your research, there will always be skeptics.

  2. Alan 15 August 2013 at 9:33 am #

    “Daughter of God” was the first of your books I read and circulated through my group of avid readers. I always prefaced the loan with the fact I thought it was one of the best-researched novels I had ever read …until I read all your other novels including “Die by Wire”. …and they are all pretty scary. Richard Preston’s “The Cobra Event” is pretty scary too.

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