When Russian President Vladimir Putin comes to town, a bubble of spoofed GPS signals surrounds him
A report has highlighted the fact that Russia disrupts Global Positioning System (GPS) signals as part of its security practices.
The GPS system is a product stemming from the cold war, but since 2000 it has enabled the era of the satnav, yet it is still controlled by the US government.
But it is not infaliable, and growing concern over the vulnerability of the GPS to jamming and other interference has prompted South Korea for example to invest in a land-based radio navigation system.
This GPS interference was highlighted in a new report from non-profit research group the Centre for Advanced Defence (C4ADS).
The report contained more than 12 months of analysis of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) positioning data, and it found that GPS and GNSS systems “are vulnerable: by attacking positioning, navigational, and timing (PNT) data through electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, state and non-state actors can cause significant damage to modern militaries, major economies, and everyday consumers alike.”
It singled out the Russian Federation for extensive GPS spoofing incidents.
The report said that it had identified 9,883 suspected instances (carried out by Russia) across 10 locations that affected 1,311 civilian vessel navigation systems since February 2016.”
According to C4ADS, most incidents affected ships, but spoofing was also seen around airports and other locations.
“We demonstrate that these activities are much larger in scope, more diverse in geography, and longer in duration than any public reporting suggests to date,” it said.
So besides causing disruption to shipping navigation and satnav, Russian security forces are also said to produce a bubble of spoofed GPS signals around Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits sensitive locations.
“We believe the Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) operates mobile systems to support this activity,” said the report. “Through a review of Russian procurement data, we identify one possible mobile system, manufactured by a company closely connected to the FSO.”
“The Russian Federation has a comparative advantage in the targeted use and development of GNSS spoofing capabilities,” said the report.
“However, the low cost, commercial availability, and ease of deployment of these technologies will empower not only states, but also insurgents, terrorists, and criminals in a wide range of destabilizing state-sponsored and non-state illicit networks,” it added.
“GNSS spoofing activities endanger everything from global navigational safety to civilian finance, logistics, and communication systems,” the report warned.
Back in 2015, the US Air Force (which still overseas GPS systems) said that it had uncovered a technical error that affected some GPS satellites – an error that had been unnoticed since 2013.
The problem apparently didn’t affect the GPS system’s accuracy, appeared to have been caused by the ground-based software used to index messages transmitted by Boeing-built GPS IIF satellites.
It is worth remembering that Russia has its own GPS alternative called the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), which had incomplete coverage of the globe until the mid-2000s.
China has its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, while Japan has the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, and India has the Regional Navigation Satellite System (NAVIC).
The European Union meanwhile has its Galileo positioning system.