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GPS Interference – A Cyber Problem

January 22, 2015

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The most recent edition of the U.S. Coast Guard’s journal of safety and security at sea, “Proceedings” included interference with GPS as one of the cyber-vulnerabilities mariners needed to be concerned about.

The Coast Guard reinforced that at a recent public meeting they held on maritime cybersecurity. In the USCG CYBERCOM presentation, interference with ship’s GPS and interference with GPS at port facilities (many container cranes need GPS to know where they are and where to put things) were both cited as security issues.

This is a refreshing development as not everyone within the “cyber community” has always agreed that GPS interference is a cyber-problem. Their thoughts have been that it is better to put in another bucket, like electronic warfare, or electro-magnetic interference, rather than add it to the growing list of problems cyber-warriors must deal with.

Yet GPS interference meets all the criteria to be, and is a very real, cyber-problem:

  • It interferes with IT systems ability to communicate – Fiber networks and wireless communications depend upon GPS-derived time for their proper functioning. Even Land Mobile Radio systems will fail or be greatly degraded without GPS time to govern frequency use and sharing.
  • It interferes with end use devices – Not only do navigation systems suffer during a GPS interference event, but so do a wide variety of other devices and applications that depend upon GPS time and/or location data. For example, traffic lights, power grids, cell phone towers, and innumerable other systems are synchronized using GPS time.
  • It can insert false data into systems – When the interference with GPS interference is spoofing, bad location and/or time data can be introduced into targeted systems to further the bad actor’s own gains. Whether it is a mobster luring the police off his track, or a con artist altering the time stamp on a transaction, the ability to control and alter supposedly authoritative data is a powerful cybercrime tool.

From the Resilient Navigation and Timing (RNT) Foundation, congratulations to the folks at the USCG and their “Proceedings” journal for a great issue and validating the importance of location and time to all things cyber.