Safety is a simple concept but an abstract task, specifically with aircraft. One critical safety system, the Traffic Collision Avoidance System II (TCAS), protects against mid-air collisions by predicting the course of other aircraft, determining the possibility of collision, and issuing a resolution advisory for avoidance. Previous research to identify vulnerabilities associated with TCAS’s communication processes discovered that a false injection attack presents the most comprehensive risk to veritable trust in TCAS, allowing for a mid-air collision. This research explores the viability of successfully executing a false injection attack against a target aircraft, triggering a resolution advisory. Monetary constraints precluded access to a physical TCAS unit; instead, this research creates a novel program, TCAS-False Injection Environment (TCAS-FIE), that incorporates real-world distributed computing systems to simulate a ground-based attacker scenario which explores how a false injection attack could target an operational aircraft. TCAS-FIEs’ simulation models are defined by parameters to execute tests that mimic real-world TCAS units during Mode S message processing. TCAS-FIE simulations execute tests over applicable ranges (5–30 miles), altitudes (25–45K ft), and bearings standard for real-world TCAS tracking. The comprehensive tests compare altitude, measure range closure rate, and measure signal strength from another aircraft to determine the delta in bearings over time. In the attack scenario, the ground-based adversary falsely injects a spoofed aircraft with characteristics matching a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, targeting an operational Boeing 737-800 aircraft. TCAS-FIE completes 555,000 simulations using the various ranges, altitudes, and bearings. The simulated success rate to trigger a resolution advisory is 32.63%, representing 181,099 successful resolution advisory triggers out of 555,000 total simulations. The results from additional analysis determine the required ranges, altitudes, and bearing parameters to trigger future resolution advisories, yielding a predictive threat map for aircraft false injection attacks. The resulting map provides situational awareness to pilots in the event of a real-world TCAS anomaly.
Journal of Supercomputing
Hannah, J., Mills, R., Dill, R. et al. Traffic collision avoidance system: false injection viability. J Supercomput (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11227-021-03766-9