Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

EW? Cyber? Glitch? What broke a UK satellite for a week?

Anytime a GPS’s entire network is rendered inoperable, one should examine the reasons why with a modicum of cynicism.  

In this article, the EU’s GPS network was brought down by a malfunctioning ground system.  

Now that a known weakness in the system has been identified, it is imperative that the EU not only fix the fault that brought the system down, but it must also protect that system from any possible external or internal means of replicating that fault.  To not do so exposes the system to future weaponization of that fault.  It is now a known fault, so it is not a zero-day exploit, but it is necessary to prevent this from happening at any time in the future. It is especially pressing that it not happen during a conflict.  

Please note the operative word in this article is “presume”. 

“While it is not clear what caused the disruption, experts presume it was not malicious.”

Even if it was malicious, an attack of this type, if deliberate, would be highly classified due to both the sensitivity of the system and the importance for European military operations.

With Russia jamming GPSs in both Northern Europe and Syria, however, it is possible Russia will exploit this in the future, if not already.

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What broke a UK satellite for a week?

The European Union’s Galileo satellite navigation system was unusable for four days following an outage with undisclosed origins.

The Galileo is the EU’s global positioning system that was purchased in 2016 in an attempt to receive GPS data outside of the United States and Russia’s systems.

The outage started July 14 and affected the navigation and timing systems, but did not have an effect on the Search and Rescue service (SAR). The problem was fixed July 18, according to news releases on the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency website.

In a July 18 update, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said the malfunction initiated with ground equipment.

“The technical incident originated by an equipment malfunction in the Galileo ground infrastructure, affecting the calculation of time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message. The malfunction affected different elements on the ground facilities,” according to the press release.

The EGSA also said it would set put an independent inquiry board together to analyze the incident.

While it is not clear what caused the disruption, experts presume it was not malicious.

“These systems are very hard to build and operate with lots of opportunities for failure and only one path to success,” said Dana A. Goward, president of Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, in an email.

“GPS has had two or three significant hiccups, and the Russian’s GLONASS has had multiple problems. So no surprise that the EU’s effort has some bumps in the road also.”