GPS satellite networks are easy targets for hackers – CNNMoney

A pivotal network of space satellites doesn’t properly guard its communication, allowing hackers to hijack signals and wreak havoc.

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I briefly saw this story on CNN last night and while I don’t think the risk is anything new, it is pretty serious and the sooner it is dealt to, the better. I’m talking GPS security in general.

There are new technologies emerging that may enhance or even replace GPS as we know it, however today we have millions of devices that rely in varying degrees to it being there and it being accurate.

There are subsets of systems for military use, for aviation, shipping etc that might be able to have advanced encryption and authentication, but people are still involved and have access to keys, so ultimately the risk is proportional to the reward.

For example of you wanted to hack into the system controlling a plane on a bombing mission, the reward is pretty high to deliberately send it of course.

When GPS was first available only the US military had access to accurate GPS data, the rest of us made do with deliberately less accurate data. Of course with cellphone technology, we developed assisted GPS and in the high quality automotive systems we added gyros, inertia sensors and even paddles on vehicle wheels that measured the revolutions to compensate for poor odometer accuracy and suddenly you had a system that only needed periodic high quality GPS fixes. It could run for quite some time without GPS. My original car nav system, which I still have, works inside tunnels and car-parks where it can’t see any GPS signal, but it has to have previously had a good signal to start with.

I have a few concerns here:

1. We are incredibly reliant on GPS today, It pervades our lives. This week I flew twice (as a passenger), landing in a 140km gale where  there was zero visibility until we got to about 300 meters. I used GPS in my phone to find my hotel. I used my TomTom Live to find the quickest route home from the airport avoiding the tail of the evening congestion. I also used the GPS to see if any of my friends were in the neighborhood while I was away and my phone recommended where I should have lunch. I also used it to check what the traffic was like during a taxi ride to make sure the cabbie  was taking the quickest route and not gypping me on the fare. These are everyday things that we rely on and take for granted.

2. GPS navigation has a huge impact on traffic congestion, with many people getting from A to B much faster than without when they are driving on routes they are unfamiliar with; and where they have real time traffic on their nav system, even more so, because it shows them alternatives that have less traffic congestion and allows them to avoid incidents.

3. GPS frequently guides emergency vehicles such as fire and ambulance to sites, saving lives and reducing the impact of incidents by getting to the correct site more quickly.

4. We are talking about driverless and autonomous cars in the very near future. Just like the difference between portable navigation devices which you can buy for $100 and in-car systems that have high accuracy, a system that controls cars with previous cargo (people)  in them, has to have the best possible location information all of the time. Imagine a car driving itself on a winding or busy road that suddenly thinks it is somewhere else.

5. More sophisticated encryption is all very well for future devices that haven’t been built yet, however retro-installation of software in the majority of consumer devices would be all but impossible and with the massive volume of new devices being introduced from high volume factories around the world today, even changing systems that are the very latest, would be a slow tedious process.

Therefore hacking of this technology is something that could impact everything we do and disrupt society as we know it. Just losing access to the satellites would be all it took.

When you go around your day today, have a think about the world around you. Everything from the milk you put on your breakfast cereal was aided by GPS.

See on Scoop.itLocation Is Everywhere

About Luigi Cappel

Writer for hire, marketing consultant specialising in Location Based Services. Futurist and Public Speaker Auckland, New Zealand
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