The Federal Aviation Administration is in the midst of upgrading its air traffic control system at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. A big price might not fix an even bigger problem, though, as hackers suggest that system could be compromised.
The FAA is already in the process of rolling out its Next Generation Air Transportation System, of NextGen, a state-of-the-art program that will keep tabs on every plane in US airspace using GPS technology in lieu of relying on traditional radar. In the wake of a series of incidents where GPS signals were spoofed, though, serious problems could emerge in the coming years.
“If I can inject 50 extra flights onto an air traffic controller’s screen, they are not going to know what is going on,” Canadian computer consultant Brad Haines told NPR last year. Because Haines and others can emulate unencrypted and unauthenticated GPS signals sent from imaginary planes, he says NextGen stands to warrant some upgrades before it’s ready for the rest of the world.