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GPS spoofing is a malicious attack that broadcasts incorrect signals to deceive GPS receivers, while GPS manipulation modifies a real GPS signal. GPS satellites orbiting the Earth pinpoint physical locations of GPS receivers embedded in everything from smartphones to ground vehicles and aircraft. Testing for GPS vulnerabilities in a mobile environment had previously been difficult because federal law prohibits over-the-air re-transmission of GPS signals without prior authorization.

SwRI (Southwest Research Institute) has developed a cyber security system to test for vulnerabilities in automated vehicles and other technologies that use GPS receivers for positioning, navigation and timing. SwRI is a non-profit organization in the US, providing R&D solutions to to government and industry clients.

“This is a legal way for us to improve the cyber resilience of autonomous vehicles by demonstrating a transmission of spoofed or manipulated GPS signals to allow for analysis of system responses,” said Victor Murray, head of SwRI’s Cyber Physical Systems Group in the Intelligent Systems Division.


SwRI designed the new tool to meet US federal regulations. Their spoofing test system places a physical component on or in line with a vehicle’s GPS antenna and a ground station that remotely controls the GPS signal. The system receives the actual GPS signal from an on-vehicle antenna, processes it and inserts a spoofed signal, and then broadcasts the spoofed signal to the GPS receiver on the vehicle. This gives the spoofing system full control over a GPS receiver.

While testing the system on an automated vehicle on a test track, engineers were able to alter the vehicle’s course by 10 meters, effectively causing it to drive off the road. The vehicle could also be forced to turn early or late.

Future related research will explore the role of GPS spoofing in drones and aircraft, according to swri.org.