A new kind of cyber threat: jamming and spoofing GPS-based systems
Time is such an important aspect of our lives. Each of us must get to work, go to a meeting, take a flight, go on a date, or have an appointment at a precise time - measured on a minute-to-minute basis. Computer systems that run our lives need time measured by the millisecond, microsecond, or even nanosecond. Without accurate and reliable timekeeping, the computer systems that are integral to our lives will collapse.
Accurate time synchronization is necessary for the operation of critical infrastructures and GPS GLOBAL POSITIONING (SYSTEM) has in recent years become the main time source that synchronizes these important time systems.
The American satellite system GPS (there are other similar systems such as GLONASS, GALILEO, BEIDOU, and NAVIC) has become the most common time source in the world because it is reliable, accurate, and available for free. However, the system is prone to jamming and spoofing.
Imagine a world without aviation infrastructure, transportation, communications, commerce, and banking - critical infrastructures that all have in common the complete dependence on GPS systems for location, navigation, and scheduling. This scenario, which poses a clear and immediate threat to governments, business organizations, and human society, is a target for any hostile entity wishing to cause widespread physical, economic, or mental harm.
GPS disruptions and damage to time signatures have recently been reported as a real cyber threat that could harm business activity. This is how IT managers around the world effectively defend against it.
GPS - The weak link in cyberspace defense
While approx. 90% of all resources in cyberspace are invested into protection against intrusion into corporate networks for the purpose of stealing valuable business information and/or placing ransom demands, cyber experts have recently identified a new kind of threat to data centers that serve government, infrastructure, and business systems, and threatens their activities. These threats are characterized by jamming and/or obstructing timestamps received from GPS systems and spoofing them, which could be disastrous for ground, sea, and air transport infrastructure and fatally damage all of the technological systems that serve us all.
However, it is important to note that these threats are not the exclusive domain of rogue hackers and cyber-terrorist organizations. The ability to spoof GPS systems is so simple to implement and inexpensive to purchase ($10 and you have a short-range jammer) that any driver employed by the organization can jam the GPS signal, as well as the time and location data, which is vital for monitoring his field operations, and any disgruntled employee can plant a jammer in the corporate data center, as revenge on the employer.
The world is advancing to time stamps from a secure server
Security agencies have already identified the threat inherent in GPS jamming and spoofing and have been equipped with advanced protection systems that include detection of jamming/spoofing and backup measures. “However, we see that many civic and business entities have yet to fully internalized the dramatic consequences of a time-based system collapse. These entities continue to use the internet as a time source, despite their growing dependence on systems that require synchronization by the micro-second, such as 5th generation switches in the fields of mobile, trading, banking, and more. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 2018 the European Union and the American regulatory bodies have already established regulations that require the use of a global time (UTC) secure and synchronized time signature, with an accuracy of 100 microseconds, in every financial transaction (MiFID II regulations at 613 RULE).
Focus Telecom is a world leader in the protection of PNT systems
Focus Telecom has been a leader in the field of synchronization and atomic clocks since 1995, and with the increase in cyber threats to the PNT (Positioning - Navigation - Timing) systems, the company has become a source of knowledge in this field.
The holistic model we have developed is made up of several layers that can protect a GPS-based organization, according to the level of risk it faces and the potential damage that will be caused because of time spoofing or jamming.
We know how to detect an attack on the organization's time sources, neutralize the threat of intrusion into the organization, provide alternative time from a secure highly accurate source, and protect internal organizational time distribution through a fiber optic protection system, through which time protocols are transmitted. And perhaps most importantly, we know how to alert about time spoofing or jamming attacks as they happen.
These layers are characterized by several solutions, including secure NTP/PTP time servers, systems, GRANDMASTER atomic clocks, and FIREWALL RF systems dedicated to the RF world. These systems are protected by an active protection system that can detect and neutralize disruptions before they reach the servers, and by additional technological solutions that provide effective protection against these types of threats.
Focus Telecom - Israel's national timekeeper
The numbers indicate that the market for protection systems against jamming, spoofing, and deceiving for GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), and especially GPS systems, is growing rapidly. We all remember the pilots' reports of disruptions in the reception of the GPS signals that occurred in June 2019 and made it difficult to access Ben Gurion Airport.
These disruptions have resumed in January 2022 and pose a renewed challenge to pilots. Another incident has occurred in May 2021, when farmers on the northern border and in the Gaza Envelope have reported disruptions affecting the GPS system installed in tractors that oversees sowing and harvesting routes.
Focus Telecom's systems provide a solution to these challenges and are successfully integrated into the IDF, defense industries, financial institutions, communications companies, and Israel's transportation, electricity, and water infrastructure.
Focus Telecom has recently installed a GRK cyber protection system - GPS RESILIENT KIT in the “National Time” systems of the State of Israel, at the National Physics Laboratory in Jerusalem.
“A cyber protection system like the one installed in the National Laboratory, as well as many other systems we have developed to protect critical infrastructure,” concludes Shlomi Mazor, “enable our customers to deal with the growing global threat and ensure the function of GPS systems, on which their business activity is based - even under jamming and spoofing attacks of various kinds.”
For more information on Focus Telecom’s PNT protection solutions please visit https://www.pnt-security.com.
By Shlomi Mazor & Charlie Ferreira