Spoofing: Black Sea maybe not, Baltic maybe so

October 24, 2017  - By

Spurious signals in the Black Sea have repeatedly placed seagoing vessels, according to their navigation systems, on the site of an airport hundreds of miles from their true positions.

The incidents were reported in the August and October issues of this magazine, and in Mike Jones’ Defense PNT e-newsletter column for October. Experts initially concluded the problems probably indicated a spoofing attack in the area.

Satellite image of the Black Sea.

A reader of the Defense PNT e-newsletter commented, “We have been following this case for quite some time now. We track all merchant vessels worldwide on the basis of Automatic Identification System (AIS), 24/7. The AIS transponder uses the GPS receiver for its position report.”

Our correspondent is the director of a company that offers server- and web-based tools that can be incorporated in GIS and asset tracking and tracing systems.

“The ‘spoofing’ is still going on,” he continued. “Even today ships were placed on the airport runway. In total, over 600 vessels were placed on the runway since early June. Our preliminary conclusion is that the ‘spoofing’ is probably not done on purpose. The most likely cause of this spoofing is a GPS re-radiator transmitter located in the hanger close to the end of the runway. This device is used for testing GPS when planes are placed inside the hanger. So, line-of-sight interference?”

The comment drew the immediate interest of security consultants who continue their investigations.

Baltic Incidents. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that a disruption of Latvia’s cellular network and emergency-services hotline may have resulted from a test of Russia’s ­electronic-warfare capabilities.

A 16-hour outage in October occurred at the time of major Russian military exercises. If substantiated, this could reveal electronic-warfare assets with capacity to disrupt civilian communications remotely. Such a tool could severely hamper authorities’ ability to organize a quick civilian response in case of war.

“Because of maneuver warfare’s reliance on communication, Russia has invested heavily in electronic warfare systems which are capable of shutting down communications and signals across a broad spectrum,” stated a December 2016 publication by the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group. “The Russians layer these systems to shut down FM, SATCOM [satellite communication], cellular, GPS and other signals.”

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About the Author: Alan Cameron

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