Russians routinely disrupt GPS data in sensitive areas


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According to one report, in the past three years the Russians have routinely and successfully fed fake GPS data to units at locations the Russians consider sensitive or of high priority.

The report — published by the Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS), a nonprofit intelligence firm focused on worldwide security issues — found that at least 9,883 instances of spoofing occurred near sensitive areas in Russia and Crimea and during times when high-ranking officials, such as President Vladamir Putin, were present. In addition, the data showed that spoofing regularly occurred near Khmeimim Airbase in Syria during Russian operations there.

The findings underscore the dangers of relying on global positioning data, such as that provided by the global positioning system and similar technology across the globe, because the service can be disrupted or co-opted to deliver false data, says one author of the C4ADS report, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The story also described one case where researchers at the University of Texas in Austin:

were able to build a device for less than $1,000 to spoof the position of a ship and cause it to change course. “The ship actually turned, and we could all feel it, but the chart display and the crew saw only a straight line,” said Todd Humphreys, assistant professor of the department of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, at the time.

None of this should surprise anyone. It does however underline the need for there to be alternative navigational systems available. Ship’s crews should have a sextant available and should know how to use it. Missiles and airplanes similarly should have a backup system to check their GPS against.

And hikers and drivers should never totally rely on their GPS. Use it as a map, for guidance, but always verify its suggestions with common sense.

Hat tip reader Stephen Taylor.

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6 comments

  • Thomas V Willoughby

    I was trained in the old school Army where we relied on paper maps and a compass. I still look at the map whether it is paper or digital to verify or over ride the computer directions. I sure hope the current troops are taught the analog back ups.

  • Ian C.

    They should revive and improve LORAN (as mentioned in the Wiki article). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loran-C

  • BSJ

    But Elon’s cars will let us sleep at the wheel. And we won’t need truck drivers any more. Airliners will fly themselves, ‘they’ say…

  • Garry

    It’s been almost 30 years, but when I served ships used LORAN, with dead reckoning as a backup. When in sight of land, they take bearing off of landmarks as well. With the state of training in the Navy in recent years, I have doubts that all ships are still proficient.

    Celestial navigation (which uses a sextant) is only accurate within a few miles. I remember the calculations as very cumbersome; I image there’s an app for it now.

  • MDN

    Smart weapons started smarter than GPS so we got this covered. Per the wiki page about the Tomahawk land attack missile:

    Block III TLAM-Cs retain the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) II navigation system, allowing GPS only missions, which allow for rapid mission planning, with some reduced accuracy, DSMAC only missions, which take longer to plan but terminal accuracy is somewhat better, and GPS aided missions which combine both DSMAC II and GPS navigation which provides the greatest accuracy.

    And with today’s worldwide digital terrain data (thanks to those shuttle radar mapping missions that generated about a gigabyte of data an hour over several 2 week runs), the continuously improving satellite imagery available to overlay on top of it, and modern near impossible to spoof multi-spectral sensor technology, I suspect if you can’t move, you can’t hide. At least if Uncle Sam is really intent on getting you.

  • Kevin R.

    I was a Quartermaster in the Navy before GPS.

    What we relied on when out of radar and visual range at sea other than celestial was Omega. We considered Loran C to be for fishermen.

    I would imagine the Navy still employs celestial (along with any electronic means) with the good old strip-form hand calculation. The Navy needs that full accountability so formal inquiries will know who to reward. /s

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