Nation Current Affairs 18 Feb 2019 GPS Spoofing: A New ...

GPS Spoofing: A New Cyber-Weapon

Published Feb 18, 2019, 2:11 am IST
Updated Feb 18, 2019, 2:11 am IST
The simple experiment described above performed by Texas University proves that the spoofing of ships has become simple and easy.
In 2016, smartphone users trying to access Uber and Google Maps near the Kremlin reported that the apps displayed their position as being 20 miles away at Vnukovo Airport.
 In 2016, smartphone users trying to access Uber and Google Maps near the Kremlin reported that the apps displayed their position as being 20 miles away at Vnukovo Airport.

The 1997 Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, feels intriguingly relevant, for fortuitously prognosticating the alarming state of the world today.  In the movie, an evil media baron Elliot Carver grabs hold of a GPS encoder and uses it to send counterfeit signals, hoodwinking a British warship to stray into the South China Sea with the aim of provoking a war between the UK and China.  What makes Tomorrow Never Dies so relevant today, is that it explicitly ties together electronic warfare with a complicit and morally bankrupt newsmedia.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based, “constellation of 24 navigational satellites” that furnishes location and time information anywhere on the planet. It is an “invisible utility” that we count on to get around on our planet.  Each of the 24 GPS satellites has their atomic clock. Therefore the time reported by the GPS is most accurate.


In some places, such as the stock market, every millisecond matters, where automated trading systems conclude several thousand trades every second, and a millisecond hither and thither can add up to differences of millions of dollars. Our cell phone towers too depend on GPS for timing and synchronisation.
GPS spoofing - the act of transmitting a fake GPS signal to fool a device into thinking it's someplace else, used to be pretty far down the list of things that security personnel needed to be concerned with. While it's long been technically possible the general thinking was that it was too difficult for a hacker to implement.

But in June of 2013, in international waters about 30 miles off the coast of Italy, the GPS device of the White Rose of Drachs, a $80 million, 65-meter luxury super-yacht, came under the stranglehold of its hijackers sending the yacht several hundred metres off course - without any indication of a course change on the onboard monitors or any alarms being raised.  Insofar as the ship's GPS equipment was concerned, the signals it was getting were real. But those signals were counterfeit, and the ship was not on course. A team of graduate students from University of Texas/Cockrell School of

Engineering named Jahshan Bhatti and Ken Pesyna led by assistant professor Todd Humphreys, had been invited aboard while the White Rose sailed from Monaco to Rhodes, Greece, on the Mediterranean Sea.  From the White Rose's upper deck, the students transmitted feeble civil GPS signals with their spoofing contraption (a blue box about the size of an attaché case) directed towards the ship's GPS antennas.  The team's fake signals slowly subdued the authentic GPS signals it was receiving, getting the ship to turn around dramatically even when the monitor continued to display the path of the yacht to be a straight line.

GPS relies on satellites placed more than 20,000 km above the Earth's surface, and by the time it reaches the Earth its signal strength is substantially weakened. Overpowering the GPS signals is therefore extremely easy if a transmitter is placed in proximity. The simple experiment described above performed by Texas University proves that the spoofing of ships has become simple and easy.

GPS spoofing prior to this was considered to require vast technical expertise. But today a spoofer can be built effortlessly with commercial hardware and software downloaded from the Internet. Coincidentally of late, there has been an increase in the number of reports of GPS interference in Russia and its territorial waters.
On June 22, 2017 the US Maritime Administration filed an ostensibly languid incident report after the captain of a US ship off the Russian port of Novorossiysk reported that the GPS of his vessel was indicating its location at Gelendzhik Airport which was 32 km inland. After ensuring that there was nothing wrong with the navigation equipment of his vessel, the captain contacted nearby ships. To his dismay, he discovered that AIS (automatic identification system) traces of other ships also placed them at the same airport. There were in all 24 such vessels.

In 2017, maritime analytics company Windward trailed nearly 450 cases of ships at sea whose locations were wrongly indicated as being at airports in Sochi, St. Petersburg and Gelendzhik. In 2016, smartphone users trying to access Uber and Google Maps near the Kremlin reported that the apps displayed their position as being 20 miles away at Vnukovo Airport.

Similarly, people trying to play “Pokemon Go” near Kremlin, also found themselves getting relocated to Vnukovo Airport.

Immediate reports suggested that such satellite navigation problems in the Black Sea and Moscow could be due to a new system of spoofing being experimented by Russia.

Another point of view which emerged suggested that Russia was probably indulging in GPS spoofing for defensive reasons as many NATO missiles and drones rely on GPS for successful navigation, as such spoofing would deny them their targets in Russia.

A 2016 intelligence summary confirmed this point of view by the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office which noted that Russia had integrated a massive network of GPS jammers into their civilian cellular phone network, which could be activated to fend off smart missiles or other threats that bank upon GPS navigation.

A report by the same office in 2014 informed that Russian media was hell-bent on proving to the world that it had capabilities of crippling US marine navigation systems. The Kremlin-backed press went to the extent of proclaiming a triumph after the 2014 much-publicised confrontation between the US Navy destroyer the Donald Cook and a Russian SU-24 fighter plane.  The second report was confirmed, when the US Navy suffered seven mysterious naval accidents. The USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser on January 31 ran aground off the coast of Japan.

On May 9, another boat, USS Lake Champlain, was hit by a fishing vessel belonging to South Korea. In the small hours of June 2017, the USS Fitzgerald, a US$1.5 billion vessel rammed into a container ship killing seven sailors. Due to which, a commanding officer and two other officers got laid off.

In the same manner, on 21 August 2017, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a large merchant vessel in the Strait of Malacca resulting in deaths of 5 US sailors and ten missing sailors.  Such repetitive incidents sparked off speculation that Russia which appears to have invested heavily into electronic warfare technology was testing its technology.

What's even more intriguing and mysterious is the bizarre pattern of occurrence of GPS problems particularly in and around Moscow.  Quite surprisingly, mysterious relocation of ships and smartphone apps to airports in Vnukovo, Sochi, St. Petersburg and Gelendzhik airports turned out to come about whenever Russian president Putin happened to be in town.

Which appeared to indicate that Russian intelligence was resorting to spoofing wherever the Russian president was located.  

Perplexingly, ships which were located to Gelendzhik airport while actually being anchored in the Black Sea, happened when Vladimir Putin was staying at his Black Sea residence. Was GPS spoofing being resorted to, to secure President Putin from threats to his life?

Experts have long believed that military powers like China, Russia, USA could execute GPF spoofing but what is perturbing is the brazen manner in which Russia has been deploying it explicitly time and again and providing a clue of the availability of a new form of warfare to nation-states as well as criminals.  Apart from its use in electronic warfare, GPS spoofing can have a tremendous impact in day to day activities around the world. Just come to think about the kind of impact it can have on one industry: global cargo.

Around 90% of world trade is carried on seas, and cargo theft costs $25 billion annually. All passenger and cargo ships at sea (approximately 4,00,000 vessels worldwide) rely on the AIS to report their positions and an assault on these systems could make entire oil tankers and cruise ships disappear from view, crash into one another, or run aground.

GPS spoofing technology can also prove extremely dangerous for autonomous cars which are being deployed on the roads today. The vehicles should, therefore, be designed and built to withstand bloopers and abnormalities of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems), GPS jammers and spoofers.  

Although the technology to detect spoofing already exists and is being incorporated in the new GPS receivers from suppliers like Broadcom and U-blox.  We should understand that, even when a GPS receiver detects spoofing, it still won't be able to show actual position as the signals from the spoofing transmitter would be enormously stronger when compared to the actual GPS signals.

The technology to withstand spoofing is available, but it's excessively expensive. The best technique to withstand is created by deploying several antennas, which generates reception beams in diverse directions, thereby annulling the signals being produced by the spoofer. This too would work only if the spoofer is generating signals from just one or two locations.

Just like outer the GPS, we humans have a spiritual GPS (God's Positioning System) which can help us navigate into an inner world of spiritual bliss and perpetual joy.

We can calibrate our internal navigation systems by connecting more deeply with our inner selves. When this happens, we will develop the ability to navigate and find that deep connection to our inner sanctuary, which would allow us to
access spiritual powers to withstand and overcome any amount of human