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Dangers in GPS Spoofing

Over the past few months and in reviewing open source and proprietary data sources that Jigsaw possesses something is becoming very clear. GPS is being spoofed to cause havoc and at the same time people are being quiet about the activity. Let's talk briefly about navigational systems and why this is important.

GPS - A system consisting of a fleet of satellites that provide location and precise timing information for determining location.

LORAN - A highly resilient navigational system that uses high powered radio signals that are land based to provide very accurate and nearly impossible to jam navigational and precise time signals.

As you can see these 2 systems both do identical things which are to provide time and to provide position data. The LORAN system was born and proved the capability during world war II and GPS originally used by the military in the 80's and now used by nearly everyone for navigation.

To truly understand the problem let's explain some of the differences between these systems. First of all GPS is a space based system that is low powered signal. Since the satellites are overhead the signal only needs to reach a receiver with minimal power since we nearly always have line of sight of 3 or more satellites. LORAN on the other hand is a land based system and uses very powerful signals to cover hundreds of miles of land area. Since the signal is very high powered, it is extremely difficult to jam, whereas GPS is 1/4 a watt and can be very easily jammed or spoofed.

While both systems do the same thing and are used by transportation, Government and utilities to obtain exact time, only one system remains online. As of 2010 the LORAN system was shut down because the Obama administration said the system was redundant and no longer needed. Many in the Coast Guard, Private Sector and Government were quick to point out that if GPS failed, the US would have no reliably position or time data backup source. The total cost of the LORAN system annually was estimated at $36 million dollars but was cut because manufacturers were building devices that would be able to use GPS without thought for the ships, aircraft and utilities that used LORAN as either a primary or backup time and position source. There continues to be fighting on capital hill to get funding for the LORAN system so it can be activated and limited testing for LORAN has taken place from time to time but currently there are no operating chains in Northern America leaving these LORAN receivers in aircraft and ships without a signal to navigate.

Recent Events

As our team was researching this issue we started seeing strange things in the media concerning incidents to include Naval ships colliding with private vessels, instances where GPS just simply went off-line in multiple locations for many hours or even days without explanation as well as reports from the Government of incidents in which Iran successfully used spoofing to redirect one of our military drones to Iranian soil in which it could be reverse engineered. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to start realizing the dangers in incorrect or the loss of GPS capabilities and as of now there are no reliable backup systems available to replicate the services provided by GPS and LORAN.

Below are some of the recent events that got our attention that we thought would point to the problem. After you read through these you may come to the same conclusion. After the stories and our opinion, we then summarize our thoughts and conclude the document.

This first story outlines an example of proven manipulation of the GPS signals. It is not known if this was intentional spoofing of received signals or if it was the ships or a third party actor. What is known is that ships that are only capable of 15 knots did not and cannot move the 65 knots that were recorded.

Additional Articles on Russian Spoofing - 1

This attack was widely covered in the news media. So any missile or system that relies on GPS solely for it's location data would or could be rendered ineffective in a time of war simply by providing false GPS location information to the warhead, scary huh?!

This is the one that caught our attention. While the US Military may be hardened against attacks, all of these incidents were with commercial vessels that have no means to protect their navigational systems from receiving and using spoofed GPS signals. While the US Navy reviews their systems it is believed that they will find nothing wrong. The reason, because the commercial vessels are the issue and are wide open to position based navigational attacks by our enemies. Since there has already been loss of life the Jigsaw Security teams considers this a highly important issue and that these attacks as they have occurred are nothing short of electronic warfare that has been very successful.

Since AIS (ship navigational and collision avoidance systems) rely on GPS signals to see and avoid other ships, we suspect this is the issue. That commercial vessels are being fed incorrect navigational signals causing them to ram US war ships.

Locating the Actors

It is widely known that China and Russia both possess this technology. What is not known is who is behind this as the US would need to catch and follow the spoofed signal while it is occurring. We believe that the US Department of Defense should start monitoring for this activity and try and locate the actors. This would be hard however as you have to catch them while the spoofing is occurring and then triangulate the signal from multiple locations simultaneously.

The next thing that needs to happen is that the US needs to fund LORAN. Powering up the existing Coast Guard stations would provide the needed backup time and navigational system allowing US and other ships to have that secondary land band, highly accurate and hard to jam system in place to validate GPS signals being received by these vessels. In addition to making the sea's safer, this would also provide aviation and utilities the ability to double check navigational signals being received.

The FAA NextGEN system ADS-B also relies solely on GPS signals to see and avoid aircraft. We can only imaging the carnage that may take place if something is not done to ensure accurate and highly resiliant systems to backup the weak signal of GPS.

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