New Ohio State Research Reduces GPS Vulnerabilities

A new university transportation center at Ohio State University is tackling the vulnerabilities of technologies that depend on the Global Positioning System (GPS), which relies on signals from 24 satellites to provide positioning, navigation and time (PNT) services. Launched in 2020 with a $ 2 million grant from the US Department of Transportation, the Centre’s first conference was held this month in Columbus.

The Ohio team is directed by Professor Zach Casas and includes Professors Todd Humphries and Chandra Bhat of the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers are trying to answer the basic question of how we know that the data we receive on our navigation devices is correct and how to provide alternatives to GPS. Finding alternative sources allows users to check one set of signals against another to ensure accuracy.

This work is vital, as national security and civilian infrastructure depend on GPS, and GPS is open to intentional and unintentional interference. Keep in mind that drivers, emergency workers, truck drivers, sailors and pilots use GPS for navigation. Electricity producers use GPS to synchronize systems in power plants. Farmers use GPS to place seeds in a specific location and then fertilize and water those seeds. Builders use GPS to place studs and nails at precise points in construction projects to avoid mistakes and reduce costs.

GPS jamming drowns out the signal, so while people are driving or flying, their navigation system may disappear. GPS “tampering” can provide users with realistic information and entice them to go elsewhere. This happened in 2019, when the Iranians tricked the British tanker Stena Impero into believing that the ship was in international waters, when in fact it was in Iranian waters. The tanker was taken by the Iranians and the British crew was closed for 10 weeks.

At Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in 2019, pilots had to use alternative landing gear systems as their GPS receivers reported an alternative location. The fraud involved Russian jamming systems to protect his planes at Hmeimen Air Force Base in Syria, 217 miles north of Ben Gurion Airport. according to the BBC. Russia announced this system in 2015 to protect its aircraft from drones.

It happened that this intervention was difficult to implement due to the required expensive technology. But now portable software-defined radios can mimic GPS satellite signals and are relatively inexpensive. The NooElec HackRF One Software Defined Radio costs $ 325 on, and the description states that the radio “has not been tested for compliance with the regulations governing the transmission of radio signals. You are responsible for the lawful use of your HackRF One. ”

The Ohio team is researching how to use 5G for navigation, which can lead to fewer delays and more reliability. Researchers have developed a method for using signals sent from low-Earth orbit satellites, such as Starlink, Orbcomm

and Iridium Communications

. They found that GPS receivers could track signals emitted by these satellites. Earlier this year, they tracked their positions up to 8 meters. They validate signals with the help of cell towers and perform complex studies to identify the risk.

This study fits into the new Directive 7 on space policy, issued in January. It calls for performance monitoring and interference detection for civil space services; resilience; PNT data and signal authentication; and PNT requirements for civil applications. In addition, in August White House National Science and Technology Council issued a National PNT Sustainability Research and Development Plan, a plan to improve the sustainability of PNT services and the critical infrastructure that depends on these services.

The executive branch and Congress are trying to prevent companies from being near the GPS bar and degrading the signal. Order of the Federal Communications Commission of 2020 satisfy the application from Ligado Networks, a Virginia-based company to operate a terrestrial network to the lanes reserved for GPS. Interference will occur because On signals will be two billion times like powerful as GPS signals received from satellites.

The National Telecommunications Information Administration, part of the Commerce Department, on behalf of the entire executive branch, filed a petition asking the FCC to reconsider Ligado’s approval, citing “irreparable harm to users of the global federal government positioning system.”

The FCC order requires Ligado to pay for damages to federal devices, but not to reimburse individuals and companies – costs that could reach tens of billions of dollars. Senator Jim Inhoff (R-OK) is sponsoring the bipartisan GPS and Satellite Preservation Act, S. 2166, with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) and Mike Rounds (R-SD).

The bill will hold Ligado or a future licensee if Ligado decides to sell the spectrum responsible for costs to non-federal consumers as well as federal consumers. Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) introduced a parallel bill in the House of Representatives, HR 4634.

Senator Inhoff told me in an email: “We rely on GPS for too many basic functions to jeopardize the way it is used by government, individuals and consumers. When Ligado’s spectrum redirection efforts disrupt the infrastructure of these systems, as tests have shown, consumers and taxpayers should not bear the burden of updating countless systems. These costs must be borne only by the responsible party: Ligado. I hope that our legislation can be reviewed soon; we can’t afford to wait. “

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. A new Ohio survey will do a little less.