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2017 May 31

GPS vulnerability questioned after cyber attacks

The recent spate of cyber attacks around the World has focussed attention on how vulnerable GPS could be from similar attacks. GPS is considered to be a public utility these days ranking alongside gas and electricity supplies and it is now a vital component of transport and financial markets.

This has led the House of Representatives in the US to consider a bill that would enable the Secretary of Transportation to work through the Coast Guard to establish an eLoran system as a back-up

Back in 2004 President Bush declared GPS essential to national and economic security and directed a backup capability be acquired. One congressman commented, “If the interest is more obvious now, I am guessing it’s because the threats to GPS satellites and signals are increasing. The Director of National Intelligence reported this month that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are focusing on improving their already impressive ability to jam GPS.”

Both the Bush and Obama administrations announced that they would build eLoran which at least halted the demolition of the old Loran system, no progress has been made of setting up the vital e-Loran system as a GPS back up. Now there is hope that after years of procrastination the new administration will finally move towards implementing an e-Loran back up system for GPS and the new bill in Congress is part of this move.

Meanwhile in Europe Reuters has reported that a British-led initiative to create a back-up to satellite navigation systems for ships has been pulled after failing to garner interest from other European countries, despite its proponents pointing to the growing risk of disasters at sea.

Experts say GPS is vulnerable to signal loss from solar weather effects, radio and satellite interference or deliberate jamming. The General Lighthouse Authority of the UK and Ireland (GLA) has pioneered an eLoran that would provide alternative position and timing signals for navigation using existing transmitters. However France, Norway, Germany and Denmark have closed their Loran transmitters. George Shaw of the GLA said "cost-related" issues in Europe have led to the project being pulled which in turn has led to the GLA to start decommissioning stations in Britain.

French and German government sources said they did not need or use eLoran, pointing to Europe's new satellite navigation system Galileo. A German official said Galileo offered an encrypted navigation signal and "maximal protection" against manipulation. In their waters, it's the Norwegian Coastal Administration's opinion that a ship's radar constitutes sufficient backup. In contrast, South Korea and Russia are pressing ahead with their versions of eLoran”, Shaw said.

Expert opinion suggests that any of the satellite navigation systems including Galileo and GPS are all extremely vulnerable to both jamming and spoofing which raises both security and safety questions.

Source: www.maritimejournal.com; Dag Pike

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