The Prelude To Fictional (And Real-Life) Aircraft Disappearances: Unencrypted GPS:
“Civilian Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers are vulnerable to a number of different attacks such as blocking, jamming, and spoofing. The goal of such attacks is either to prevent a position lock (blocking and jamming), or to feed the receiver false information so that it computes an erroneous time or location (spoofing). GPS receivers are generally aware of when blocking or jamming is occurring because they have a loss of signal. Spoofing, however, is a surreptitious attack. Currently, no countermeasures are in use for detecting spoofing attacks.”
— Los Alamos Labs, Publication LAUR-03-6163
That Los Alamos Lab publication was one important inspiration for Die By Wire.
HOW DID A SCIENTIFIC PAPER COUNT AS “INSPIRATION?”
By way of a little context here: I was the science geek in high school, built ion rockets, plasma engines, and a linear accelerator (atom smasher), Neon-Helium gas laser, other fun stuff, did the international science fair gig.
But later, even with great grades in the hard sciences at Cornell, I became a writer instead. However, I never lost my love for science, and so I filter-feed the techno-krill of the internet. And every now and then, the “what if” I ask becomes a thriller. In some cases, the thriller’s “what if” accurately foretells subsequent events. But that’s the subject of a future post.
To avoid spoilers that can ruin the reading, I’ll just say that spoofing of GPS signals is simply one of the events that allowed Die By Wire’s villains to construct a plausible way to make 24 fully loaded fly-by-wire aircraft fall mysteriously out of the sky over the deep water of the Atlantic.
DIE BY WIRE WRITTEN BEFORE AIR FRANCE 447
And, yes, the first draft of Die By Wire was written before the mysterious disappearance on June 1, 2009 of Air France flight 447.
While Flt 447’s cockpit and data recorders were eventually recovered on May 1 and 2, 2011, no cause has been released. Investigators have said that they know what happened, but not why or how.
Chillingly, all the phenomenon they have deduced from the data recorder would be consistent with the manner that Die By Wire’s villain had developed for his own plot.
A COVER-UP WOULD BE INEVITABLE
I’m not asserting that 447 was brought down by a hack or a spoof.
But, the realization that hackers and spoofers had the ability bring down a modern fly-by-wire aircraft would shake global air travel to its foundations. The Icelandic volcanoes cost airlines alone $200 million per day and that was localized to Europe and did not count the collateral losses to other businesses.
A global shutdown by people unwilling to fly in die-by-wire aircraft would cost trillions and probably plunge a shaky world economy into a deep depression.
My guess is that even if hackers have brought down an airplane, we’ll never know it because the industry and governments have way too much at stake and would cover it up very, very thoroughly.
EVEN ENCRYPTED MILITARY GPS MAY BE VULNBERABLE
Danger Room, one of the very best national defense blogs on the planet, looked at this issue on Dec. 16: Iran’s Alleged Drone Hack, Tough, but Possible
“Take everything that Iran says about its captured U.S. drone with a grain of salt. But its new claim that it spoofed the drone’s navigational controls isn’t implausible. Although it’s way harder to do than the Iranian boast suggests, it points to yet another flaw with America’s fleet of robot warplanes.”
Read Die By Wire