How DHS hopes to harden tech against GPS spoofing (ShutterStock image)

How DHS hopes to harden tech against GPS spoofing

With geospatial positioning systems providing critical services to smartphones,  drones, automobiles, airlines, public safety and military operations, the Department of Homeland Security wants to be sure GPS signals can’t be tampered with.

DHS Science and Technology Directorate is inviting manufacturers of commercial GPS receivers used in critical infrastructure test their equipment in a rarely available live-sky spoofing environment.

Between April 17 and April 21 DHS S&T will be creating live-sky test scenarios focused on spoofed GPS signals at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind. This unique environment will be created under controlled conditions authorized by the federal government, DHS said in its announcement.

The department hopes that the data collected will help manufacturers develop protections for equipment and foster adoption of mitigation techniques.  The need for such protections has become more urgent with the world’s growing dependence on GPS and the decreasing cost of spoofing technology.

In 2013, for example, a professor from the University of Texas at Austin used a $2,000, custom-made spoofing device to take control of a 65-meter, $80 million super yacht in the Ionian Sea by sending a slowly amplifying signal that gradually became stronger than the civil GPS signals the ship was using. He had earlier used the similar low-cost technology to overtake navigational signals being sent to a drone.

Then at the 2015 DEF CON hacker conference, cybersecurity researchers described how they were able to disrupt the geofence on a DJI Phantom drone by spoofing GPS signals with software-defined radio. Another made the drone ignore the preprogrammed no-fly zones.

DHS' 2017 GPS Equipment Testing for Critical Infrastructure event is the first in a series of test opportunities expected to be conducted over the next year or two.

 “Accurate and precise position, navigation and timing information is vital to the nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Robert Griffin, acting DHS under secretary for Science and Technology.  “S&T has established this program to assess GPS vulnerabilities, advance research and development, and to enhance outreach and engagement with industry. The objective is to improve the security and resiliency of critical infrastructure.”

The test event will be hosted in a simulated urban environment so space is limited. Manufacturers that wish to participate must submit a request no later than 5 p.m. EST Friday, March 3.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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