House Panel Discusses Potential Weakness of RPAs in National Airspace

Civil remotely piloted aircraft have a major weakness that could place Americans at risk when they are used in the national airspace: their civil Global Positioning System signals can be easily counterfeited, or “spoofed,” asserted University of Texas assistant professor Todd Humphreys on July 19. Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee’s oversight panel, Humphreys explained how he and a group of researchers successfully commandeered a university-owned RPA in an experiment in February by broadcasting counterfeit GPS signals. With them, they were able to get the RPA to follow a false set of commands and induce it to plummet to the ground, he said. Panel chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said Humphreys’ experiment reveals a “gaping hole in the security” of using RPAs domestically. No one from the Homeland Security Department testified at the hearing, a fact not lost on McCaul. “DHS’s lack of attention about this issue is incomprehensible,” he said in his opening statement. He added, “It should not take a 9/11-style attack by a terrorist organization . . . to cause DHS to develop guidance addressing the security implications of domestic drones.” (Humphreys’ written testimony)