Grad Students Hack Megayacht

The White Rose of Drachs, a 65-meter megayacht

Onboard technology solves so many problems, but it may have just introduced a new one: hacking. While computerized systems have made managing everything onboard your yacht easier, from tracking fuel flow to turning on the stereo to steering you to your next destination. But those systems can be hacked, just like any other computer. To prove this, two graduate students from the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering, along with their professor, successfully hacked into the navigation system of The White Rose of Drachs, a 65-meter megayacht, and steered her off her course while she was navigating through the Mediterranean this past June. They used a method known as “spoofing,” where they sent false GPS signals to the boat’s antenna, gradually increasing the power of the signals until they were able to gain full control of the yacht’s GPS system. The best part? The yacht’s navigation system never detected the intrusion. (We should point out this wasn’t some WarGames scenario with Matthew Broderick pounding away on some NORAD keyboard—they were on the top deck of the yacht, and the crew was fully aware of what was going on.) The students were able to gain control of the yacht’s primary and backup GPS systems and alter the vessel’s course slightly to starboard of where it was actually going, and where it showed the captain it was going on the navigational screen.