Could Hackers Have Hit Navy Ships?

Could Hackers Have Hit Navy Ships?


As the Navy tries to figure out what caused its latest collision, two of the most common theories involve human error or some kind of electrical glitch in the navigation system. But another idea has surfaced as well, and the Navy isn’t ruling it out: hacking. “2 clarify Re: possibility of cyber intrusion or sabotage, no indications right now…but review will consider all possibilities,” tweeted Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, per Fox News. The idea is that some foreign power, perhaps China or Russia, interfered with the USS John S McCain’s GPS navigation, and perhaps did the same before the deadly June collision involving the USS Fitzgerald. Here’s a look at what experts are saying:

  • ‘Very unlikely’: At Popular Mechanics, Kyle Mizokami tosses cold water on the idea that “GPS spoofing” is to blame. For one thing, broadcasting such an interference signal would likely have affected dozens of ships in the area, not just the USS McCain, and there’s no indication of that. Plus, Navy ships don’t rely solely on GPS: Human spotters should have seen the hazard.

  • It’s fishy: “There’s something more than just human error going on,” a former information warfare specialist for the Navy tells McClatchy, referring to the string of Navy accidents. The story notes that on June 22, hackers appear to have manipulated the GPS signals of 20 ships in the Black Sea, the first such instance of GPS misdirection, or spoofing. The ships’ GPSes actually told them they were on land, and the best guess is that the interference came from Russia.
  • It’s fishy, take II: “I don’t believe in coincidence,” a former member of Israel’s cyber-warfare unit tells In addition to interfering with GPS signals, hackers also could have planted malware in the ships’ computer network, he says. “China has capabilities, maybe they are trying things, it is possible.” The USS McCain had been returning from a patrol in the South China Sea, where it sailed by one of China’s contested man-made islands, when the collision occurred.

Remains of some of the 10 missing sailors from the USS McCain have been found on the ship itself.


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