PNT Roundup: Telecoms cite GNSS vulnerabilities

October 9, 2017  - By
Image: GPS World

In a technical report titled GPS Vulnerability released Sept. 15, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Standards (ATIS) renewed its call for an eLoran system to support telecom and other critical infrastructure in the United States.

As part of its “Recommendations to Assure Time for Telecom” the report says:

“An eLoran system (or equivalent) should be developed and implemented in the U.S. to provide a near-term alternative to GPS for the telecom system and other critical infrastructure. The physical and cyber security of eLoran transmission stations should be a consideration in their operation.”

ATIS termed its report “a major resource to help better understand and address a formidable telecommunications industry challenge: the vulnerabilities in the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

Requirements for precise time delivery have driven the industry toward the increased use of GPS and GPS-dependent technologies, it says. Yet this dependency has left the industry vulnerable to disruptions and manipulations of the GPS signal.

GPS Vulnerability (ATIS-0900005) provides insight into the sources of the most common problems with GPS and their impacts. The report also covers several mature proposed solutions that would satisfy telecommunications sector timing requirements.

“GPS disruptions have economic, financial and service impacts to carrier network operators, suppliers, cellular services as well as adjacent industries and government agencies that depend on a functioning wireless communications sector,” said ATIS President and CEO Susan Miller. “We believe that our report on this topic will contribute to solutions to help secure the delivery of time — a function critical to many sectors in our economy.”

Known vulnerabilities to deliver GPS time to a system include environmental phenomena, malicious interference and spoofing, incidental interference, adjacent band interference, poor antenna installations and rare but present GPS segment errors.

GPS Vulnerability discusses techniques to address these vulnerabilities as well as alternatives to GPS timing, with the goal of mitigating GPS vulnerabilities for the timing receivers used in the critical infrastructure.

Alternatives covered in the report include Navigational Message Authentication on modernized GPS civil signals, atomic clock time holdover, sync over fiber, eLoran, WWVB, terrestrial beacons and more.

Putin shows taste for spoofing

For several days in June, more than 20 ships reported problems with GPS reception in the Black Sea (see Expert Opinion column, August GPS World). Experts concluded the problems were probably the result of a spoofing attack in the area.

Norwegian journalist Henrik Lied of NRKbeta compared this with accounts of similar episodes near the Kremlin complex in Moscow, where tourists have reported their smartphones showing them at an airport outside the city.

Lied interviewed University of Texas professor Todd Humphreys about his theory that this is an effort to keep drones from flying in the area: “Several of us [researchers in GNSS] have concluded the Kremlin spoofing was likely trying to trigger UAV geo-fencing, which prevents UAVs from flying near airports,” Humphreys said.

A Moscow correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Company reports that these GPS problems only tend to occur when President Vladimir Putin is in town.

Several of the ships spoofed in the Black Sea were sailing in the vicinity of the Russian premier’s Black Sea vacation home. Putin was actually in the area when the incidents occurred. This may indicate that Russian authorities are spoofing wherever the Russian president is located.

Humphreys said, “It’s long been assumed that Russia, China and other nations (including the U.S.) have the technology to carry out a spoofing attack. What’s surprising is Russia’s willingness to use it openly and somewhat indiscriminately. It does fit nicely into what has been called Russian disinformation technology.”

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.