April 20, 2024

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The Hacking of a Luxury Yachts GPS and Ethical Implications

We know that our modern technology is not as foolproof and reliable as we hope it will be when we really need it. We’ve watched it fail causing train crashes, plane crashes and even luxury cruise ships run aground. We’ve watched our space rockets meet their demise and we’ve even been advised that our electric cars, laptops, and other equipment might burst into flames at any time. We trust all of our technology, but only to a point. Yes, and maybe that is wise – take GPS for instance – yes, let’s talk shall we?

There was a troubling article in the International Business Times titled; ” GPS Terrorism: Hackers Could Exploit Location Technology To Hijack Ships, Airplanes,” by Ryan W Neil published on July 29, 2013. In this article we find a computer scientist grad student quite impressed with himself for hacking a luxury yacht. He took over its GPS navigation system and could therefore command the yacht to go wherever he wished it. That is pretty good for bragging rights considering there is a hacking convention coming up, but it also points to the dark side, the black-hatter-hackers, and even terrorism.

If hackers can hijack the GPS system of wayward vessels, especially those of large size and shape such as cruise ships, container ships, large tankers, or various cargo ships they can cause a world of hurt. Not to mention a small ecological environmental disaster. A ship sunk at the entrance to a port or maritime choke point could cause intense logistical problems. Think about the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, or even the Houston channel. What if someone hacked into a luxury yacht and tried to ram a military ship?

No, the damage done would not be as dire as you might think because the military ship is very strong. Would the captain of the military ship order to open fire if it was going to get rammed by a private vessel? He’d or she would have every right to, but would they dare? What if there were friends and family of notoriety on that vessel?

If all the luxury yachts everywhere have similar GPS systems, and many of them do, then they are all in jeopardy now. Often these special GPS systems are on cargo ships so they can pass each other in the night without hitting one another, or navigate very closely at maritime choke points without the risk of collision.

Indeed, this would be a terrorist’s dream wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better if this grad student hadn’t alerted the media, or told all his friends for bragging rights? Wouldn’t it have been better if he didn’t do it at all, or if he did it only in conjunction with a GPS company he was working with to help them better their system? Some people use very bad judgment, unfortunately all of us may have to pay for it one day. The computer scientist should have went about this differently. What transpired is unacceptable. Please consider all this and think on it.