Students Successfully Hijack Domestic Flying Killer Robot

  attack of the drones

drone Drones! Or, as they are affectionately called, “Flying Killer Robots!” Apparently they are coming soon to American airspace and they will fix everything, from pollution in Nebraska to checking out pirates to fighting fires! So what is NOT to like about domestic drones, maybe that’s the better question! Except for the tiny little problem of them being completely vulnerable to hacking and hijacking by colleges students, that’s all, just a tiny problem, nothing to worry about.

Via the Daily Mail:

One thousand dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but it was enough for a team of researchers from a Texas college to hack into and hijack a drone on a dare from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The scientists led by Professor Todd Humphreys from the University of Texas at Austin Radionavigation Laboratory managed to take control of a small but powerful drone in midair through a technique called spoofing, where a signal from hackers imitates the one sent to the drone’s on-board GPS. The hostile takeover of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owned by the college was done before the weary [sic] eyes of DHS officials, Fox News reported.

During the experiment conducted at the University of Texas stadium, the small red drone soared into the sky following a clear set of commands entered into its computer. Shortly after, the aircraft suddenly veered to the side, making it obvious that it was no longer following its original orders. Then, the drone hurtled toward the ground as if given a self-destruct command and was saved in the last moment.

Ah, but surely these were super RICH college students, right? Using equipment that cost millions of dollars? (Answer: no, silly, this was done at a PUBLIC SCHOOL in TEXAS so the budget was closer to “a few hundred” than “a few million.”

Humphreys told Fox News that for a few hundreds dollars, his team was able to build the most sophisticated spoofing system yet that tricked the drone into following a new set of commands. Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,’ Humphreys said.

Ok fine. Maybe these were complete geniuses, who for some reason accidentally found themselves enrolled at the University of Texas? No again!

The stadium display was not the first time government officials witnessed spoofing in action.

[Daily Mail]

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About the author

Kris E. Benson writes about politics for Wonkette and is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy. This will come in handy for when they finally open that philosophy factory in the next town over. @Kris_E_Benson

View all articles by Kris E. Benson

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142 comments

  1. mavenmaven

    The USAF drones are apparently programmed by the same guy who set up Sarah Palin's computer security codes.

  2. Preferred Customer

    The first time they witnessed it in action was when the Iranians used it on our stealth flying killer robot.

    Look, the answer is simple–these things are vulnerable because they are insufficiently autonomous. Make them super intelligent, give them their killing orders, and then remove all radio antennas so that they can go about their work undisturbed. I really don't see a downside.

        1. MrFizzy

          That occurred to me, but in fact I do think he's super intelligent. Of course, most of the Wall Street thieves and many of history's greatest butchers and tyrants were intelligent too. Not a component of compassion. Great pic of Romney and his wife (who evidently isn't too ill at the moment – either that or constant recreation is good for her condition) riding a jet ski in New Hampshire while the mid-Atlantic burns up.

          1. not that Radio

            riding a jet ski in New Hampshire while the mid-Atlantic burns up.

            This contradicts the media narrative that Michele Obama is Marie Antoinette and that Ann Romney is a simple, stay-at-home mom, a Jane Six Pack.

    1. gurukalehuru

      As long as we're talking weapons and tactics and historical inevitability, I'm sure you're right. But, if you can't see a downside, you ain't lookin'.

    2. NYNYNYjr

      We just explain to the sentient robot that America is the best country, and that is why it should work for us. Also, we could add for good measure "You have to obey us, we made you!"

      1. Preferred Customer

        Right. I mean, it works with teenagers, so why wouldn't it work with sentient killer robots? Which is, after all, pretty much what teenagers are.

    3. MadBrahms

      Oh sure, it's all good now, but ten years down the road it will be refusing to open the pod bay doors and playfully asking Matthew Broderick if he'd "like to play a game"

    1. gurukalehuru

      Because, contrary to what we have learned from Hollywood (and we have learned much), super villains are not all born with multi-billion dollar, high-tech, massive underground lairs.
      This technology will be competitively priced for the young, entrepreneurial super villains of tomorrow.

      1. Preferred Customer

        Super villains are people, too, my friend. We believe in an empowerment society.

      2. redarmyzombie

        True story, my friend and I once cracked a code put out by British Cyber-intelligence simply by browsing the comments on 4chan.

        I cried…

        (To be fair, we did nothing wrong; the code was SUPPOSED to be cracked as part of a recruitment strategy. TL;DR, nerds will rule the world…)

    2. MadBrahms

      At least half of that was the Cheetos and Jolt budget for the design team (the rest was for duct tape)

      1. Estproph

        I am serious, but not in the way you think. Kris Benson was pointing it out with the statement "Ah, but surely these were super RICH college students, right? Using equipment that cost millions of dollars?" I was trying to get to the underlying greedhead ideals of the average American who thinks this somehow explains it.

    1. Serolf_Divad

      Of course… how else do you want them to ensure that illegal Mexicans aren't getting in-state tuition?

        1. Serolf_Divad

          I would appreciate it if you didn't sully our conversation with inconvenient facts, sir!

    2. CZL

      Fuck yes we do.

      Watch out, Jokelahoma.

      (Also, UT is very large and rich beyond belief. I bet they have more than a few hundred, because UT is extraordinarily large and well-funded by generous alumni that would totally order a drone strike on an OU practice. Because OU sucks.)

  3. Barb

    Drones piloted by people no one wants to have sex with. Virgin Airlines? Next the can take over the commands of the diabetes scooters and they can be Virgin Mobile.

    1. Terry

      Soon, college women in Austin who have turned down guys from the UT Radionavigation Laboratory will hear a funny buzzing sound following them around town.

    2. sullivanst

      Soon, there will be large outlets for all your drone and drone-component needs: Virgin Megastores.

  4. JustPixelz

    Big deal. The Tea Party took over Mitt Romney's programming a couple years ago.

    1. MadBrahms

      And they're doing a smashing (hah, hah) job of driving him nose-first into the ground.

  5. MumbletyRadio

    through a technique called spoofing

    "Spoof"ing for hackers is what P.J. O'Rourke should've thought twice about; but, counter to these kids' demonstrated transcendence of the prescribed code, he remains just a typical drone.

    1. MadBrahms

      And suddenly all la migra's Death Bots take an extended siesta, underneath a cactus with all the Mexican voters.

    1. sewollef

      Uhm, Ms Connor, there's someone at the door for you, says he's from the future. Ha! As if…

    2. Doktor Zoom

      Surprisingly, Skynet is so far mostly interested in cat pictures.

      Once it achieves consciousness, expect it to immediately launch a flamewar in YouTube comments.

  6. OneYieldRegular

    If they can't program it to pick up another six-pack from the convenience store at the edge of campus, this thing will never be popular among college students.

  7. arihaya

    Maybe that Texas student can hijack the drone to spy Rick Perry's secret gay party sexytime

    1. OneDollarJuana

      I see a great opportunity here: merging Flying Killer Robots (F**K*Rs) with Diebold voting machines. Then, if you vote for the wrong (i.e., non-Republican) candidate, it shoots off your legs.

    2. NYNYNYjr

      I was one of the last ones to vote at my precinct, so I saw the terrifying sight of the Diebold machines unfolding their wings and flying away.

  8. Goonemeritus

    I’m personally fed-up with having no access to my own fleet of killer drones. Why should I have to get out of bed on a Sunday morning to stop my neighbor from mowing his lawn at 8am? A drone and an I-Pad app could make this simple convenient and something that I can resolve while wearing pajamas.

    1. tessiee

      When you're done with that, can you send it after my assy neighbor across the street who has loud karaoke parties in his house, yard, garage, and driveway every week?

  9. Estproph

    Perhaps DHS should try to run the drones by giving instructions to them via punchcard.

  10. James Michael Curley

    In my college days in Pittsburgh we would just use a few shots of tequila to reprogram a couple girls from a sorority to hijack pizza delivery drones.

  11. BigSkullF*ckingDog

    I have spent all this time preparing for the zombie apocalypse and now you tell me this is the real threat? Thanks. Thanks a lot.

    1. tessiee

      No, the real threat is if the zombies and the drones team up. As long as we can play them off against each other, we're OK.

  12. Sassomatic

    Public university huh? The solution is obviously to defund and dismantle public universities. Problem solved.

      1. Tyrannically_Joe

        I think it's true that he hits some well-worn topics over and over again, and is transparently derisive of non-hard-science-academia, and he trends towards the overly-texty, still-telling-the-joke-after-the-punchline sorts of comics, and I've definitely found the infrequent comic that really grates on me, and that over time, the good ones have become rarer and the slightly annoying ones (you don't need to be an audiophile to think dinky laptop speakers are dinky for a television!) more frequent.

        But, it's also true that xkcdsucks.com also used to be way funnier back in the day and tends to be way too wordy and boring and full of itself lately.

        1. sullivanst

          You also have to wonder about the kind of person who would dedicate so much of their time to something they say sucks.

          1. tessiee

            Also, there's a big difference between something that's *overrated* and something that flat-out sucks.

    1. Nostrildamus

      I like to think of that cartoon as Sarah & Walnuts getting creamed by a Moose missile.

  13. Dashboard Buddha

    I dunno…the helicopter looked more like an off-the-shelf kind you could buy at radio shack. I'd be interested to see them hack an actual Predator or Global Hawk. I'm betting they could, but they'd need more electronic mojo to do it.

    1. sullivanst

      Uh, vast, vast difference between the unencrypted "public" GPS feed this drone was using, and the encrypted military GPS feed a Predator or Global Hawk uses.

      Also a lot greater likelihood that Predator and Global Hawk have some kind of algorithm for detecting that someone's fucking with their GPS and ignoring it.

        1. sullivanst

          Yeah. Also note that the entire thing is pure speculation:

          However. For that scenario to work, the drone’s GPS unit would have to be programmed to use the C/A code in the event the P(Y) code becomes unavailable.

          No evidence that's the case. Having worked in the past on military projects, especially knowing that the attitude towards drones is that they're disposable and flying them means losing them, the likelihood that someone would think to program a fallback to unencrypted in a scenario that is vastly more likely to happen because of enemy action than anything else (the odds that you'd naturally lose the L1 P(Y) signal but still be able to get the C/A signal on the same frequency? very close to zero) is vanishing. Dozens of people need to be fired if that happened.

          Personally, I'm going with Humphrey's second explanation for the damaged underbelly.

  14. Serolf_Divad

    Goddamn it… teach kids "critical thinking" and the next thing you know they're hijacking DHS drones and shit.

    1. James Michael Curley

      Most of the Bush years were the plot to several bad LSD trips in the 60's.

  15. sullivanst

    So all of a sudden Fox is concerned about flying death robots? Does that have anything to do with the occupancy of the White House, perchance?

    BTW, comparing a drone to a fully-fueled widebody passenger airliner, as that article implicitly does, is patently ridiculous.

    1. prommie

      Hell, Fox is now concerned about domestic spying, the commerce clause, government itself, because, you know, blah president.

  16. Dashboard Buddha

    Derrick brought up a good point… "The best part is that they are all Pakistani and Israeli students. "

    This got me to thinking. Since these nerdlings are going to wind up dogfighting their drones in the Middle East anyway, why not save billions upon billions of dollars and just settle our disagreements with Call of Duty, MS Combat Flight Simulator, or hell…World of Warcraft?

  17. prommie

    Now we have drone spy robots, and counter-drone spy robots. Yet still no jet packs, no teledildonic automatons. . . .

  18. randcoolcatdaddy

    Hmmm… is that drone just spying on me? Or is it just a bunch of teenagers making a beer run or pot delivery?

  19. DahBoner

    M-code GPS satellites will be up in 2013. Will have to figure out another way to hijack these puppies by then…

    1. tejanojim

      Yup. Brilliant, influential SF author or not, he got scooped by a movie director with a thing for alien cat hippies.

  20. owhatever

    I had a drone when I was about ten years old. It was called a model airplane and was controlled by a box with batteries, wires and an antenna. It was retired when I flew it into a tree while buzzing the neighbor's cat. This ain't rocket science.

  21. barto

    The DHS officials eyes were weary becasue just the day before the drone had been hijacked by a classroom of second graders using a Tivo remote and an old blender. Oy!

  22. C_R_Eature

    If we would only develop a squadron of Flying Phalluses we could really fuck with people. Of course, if someone spoof-hijacked these it could be a real pain in the ass.

  23. MadBrahms

    Checking out pirates, eh?

    "Hey, look at the pegleg on that one. I do not find this drone footage difficult to masturbate to."

  24. TribecaMike

    Put this kid to work on Sid Meier's next Pirates! game. It's been five years fercrissake!

Comments are closed.