Wireless Attacks on Aircraft Instrument Landing Systems


Harshad Sathaye, Domien Schepers, Aanjhan Ranganathan, and Guevara Noubir, Northeastern University


Modern aircraft heavily rely on several wireless technologies for communications, control, and navigation. Researchers demonstrated vulnerabilities in many aviation systems. However, the resilience of the aircraft landing systems to adversarial wireless attacks have not yet been studied in the open literature, despite their criticality and the increasing availability of low-cost software-defined radio (SDR) platforms. In this paper, we investigate the vulnerability of aircraft instrument landing systems (ILS) to wireless attacks. We show the feasibility of spoofing ILS radio signals using commercially-available SDR, causing last-minute go around decisions, and even missing the landing zone in low-visibility scenarios. We demonstrate on aviation-grade ILS receivers that it is possible to fully and in fine-grain control the course deviation indicator as displayed by the ILS receiver, in real-time. We analyze the potential of both an overshadowing attack and a lower-power single-tone attack. In order to evaluate the complete attack, we develop a tightly-controlled closed-loop ILS spoofer that adjusts the adversary's transmitted signals as a function of the aircraft GPS location, maintaining power and deviation consistent with the adversary's target position, causing an undetected off-runway landing. We systematically evaluate the performance of the attack against an FAA certified flight-simulator (X-Plane)'s AI-based autoland feature and demonstrate systematic success rate with offset touchdowns of 18 meters to over 50 meters.

USENIX Security '19 Open Access Videos Sponsored by
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

Presentation Video