Students at Haifa’s Israel Institute of Technology, the Technion, have managed to exploit a flaw in the popular crowd sourced navigation app Waze, which allowed them to create a fake traffic jam. The ‘traffic jam’ lasted for hours and diverted Waze’s users onto alternative routes which left the main thoroughfare relatively free of traffic.

The pair of students, Shir Yadid and Maytal Ben Sinai, began by creating software that could emulate a smartphone running the Waze application. The program then began creating fake Waze user accounts with forged GPS location data. At first there were dozens of bots under the students control, but by the end of their research that number had soared into the thousands. The two then worked out how to simulate traffic patterns in a manner that would force Waze to alter its behaviour and redirect traffic away from the area targeted by their bots.

The attacks all of course rely on the fact that Waze would have enough users in the area to significantly affect the traffic flow, but considering its recent acquisition by Google and the fact that its traffic monitoring abilities are being integrated into Google Maps, the scale of the attack is already large enough to make a difference in almost any city in a developed country with wide spread smartphone use.

The students were working on the project as part of their computer sciences degree and have already reported the bug through to Waze who are looking into a way to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future. While it may no seem like anything more than a harmless prank that could make your route to work a little easier by persuaded people to stay away from it, the potential malicious uses for the flaw in Waze’s traffic monitoring are staggering.

Imagine our good friend the e-toll, if enough users were persuaded to stay away from the highways that have e-toll gantries on them because of fictitious traffic jams , then SANRAL’s income would fall drastically, leaving it with no realistic way to pay off the loan that it took to finance the project in the first place, and what a shame that would be. Alternatively think about a shopping centre having a simulated traffic disaster outside which convinced Waze users to go to a nearby competitor instead.

[Source: No Camels, Image: Shutterstock]