Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Potential GPS Security and Reliability Risks

Last week the International Business Times reported that critical infrastructure dependent on GPS satellites are increasingly threatened by attack from widely available equipment such as jammers and spoofing devices. Air traffic communications, the electricity grid, telecom networks and other emergency services are under threat from such devices that are widely available at low costs in underground market places.

They reported that experts met in the UK at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington on Feb 23 and professor David Last, a past president of the Royal Institute of Navigation and now a GPS consultant stated, “A portable jammer in a tall building could cover most of London and aircraft approaching its airports. GPS gives us transportation, distribution industry, 'just-in-time' manufacturing, emergency services operations - even mining, road building and farming, all these and a zillion more. But what few people outside this community recognize is the high-precision timing that GPS provides to keep our telephone networks, the internet, banking transactions and even our power grid online.”

They said that jamming devices that can disrupt GPS signals are sold on the Internet for around $100. Last was also quoted as saying “GPS now is like computers before viruses. But there are no big security companies working to protect GPS.” He explained that the gadget could be used to "spoof" a location -- useful to evade GPS based tolls or worse to set others off course. "You can now buy a low-cost simulator and link it to Google Earth, put on a route and it will simulate that route to the timing that you specify," said professor Last.

I am sure the military portion is a better protected but how about personal navigation and public safety applications. Even if jamming is defeated, spoofing would be difficult to stop since it would be localized to a specific area.

There were also previous reports that the US GPS system was aging and nearly its design life for many of the satellites. It was stated that satellites would reach their end of life much faster than they could be replaced weakening the network to the point where accuracy and coverage could be decreased. The reliability and security issues of the US system are concerning. How dangerous do you think it really is? Any insights from technical people involved in such systems??