5 Things to Know about GPS Hackers

Experts are testing a device that sees the difference between real and fake signals.

August 18, 2014

Digital chart

If hackers crack your yacht’s GPS system, the position you see on your digital chart may be different from your actual position at sea.

Researchers from Cornell University are testing a device that can differentiate between real and fake GPS signals — and that could help protect yachtsmen against GPS hackers at sea.

The researchers are using the 213-foot Kusch White Rose of Drachs for experiments in the Mediterranean, departing out of Monaco and cruising around Italy. Here are their early results, as well as a few important things to know about GPS hackers:

• A device that produces false GPS signals is called a “spoofer.” It can fool not only yachts, but also other GPS-enabled entities, including a mini-drone that scientists “hijacked” for government officials in 2012 at a missile range in New Mexico.


• Tests this summer have included planned “attacks” on the yacht’s GPS receiver, attempting to overlay a fake signal atop the real one and send the boat off course.

• The new, second-generation detector was able to recognize the “spoof” signals before the yacht moved about 70 feet off course.

• Goals for the third-generation devices include being able not only to pinpoint false signals, but also to verify true position.


• The superyacht experiments will be explained fully at the Institute of Navigation’s ION GNSS+ conference this fall in Florida. Until then, learn more at


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