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Report highlights Russia’s advantage in GNSS spoofing capabilities

The Russian Federation has a "growing a comparative advantage in the targeted use and development of GNSS spoofing capabilities to achieve tactical and strategic objectives at home and abroad," a new study has found.

Published: April 12, 2019, 7:36 am

    GNSS – or global navigation satellite systems – is a term generally used to describe satellite-based navigation systems, including GPS, the Russian GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo and China’s Beidou, according to Wired.

    GPS spoofing techniques were also deployed in Syria and Crimea, in order to prevent drones from flying into a potentially sensitive airspace, according to the report.

    The Russian President’s visit to the Kerch Strait Bridge linking Russia with Ukraine, on May 15, 2018, and September 15, 2018, was obfuscated by the jamming technology after NATO harshly criticised the construction of the bridge.

    Such electronic equipment has been used already 10 000 times to create false GPS signals that sent ships off-grid and masked the location of President Vladimir Putin, according to the report from the US Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS).

    Russian GPS spoofing technology is able to interfere with NATO’s satellite-based navigation systems on ships, at airports and in other locations. The study noted “a close correlation between movements of the Russian head of state and GNSS spoofing event,” suggesting that the technology has been applied to hide the Russian President’s whereabouts.

    According to the BBC, Russia’s spoofing technology alters GNSS data by flooding an area with radio signals, drowning out the actual information sent from space.

    The C4ADS investigation into open-source data and commercial technologies, including information for the International Space Station, concluded in November 2018, and allegedly uncovered some 9 883 cases of Russian GNSS spoofing.

    Sources for the investigation included automatic route logging systems on ships, low-earth satellite signals, route histories taken from users of the Strava exercise app and public reports citing vessels, aircraft and vehicles that steered off course.

    Some 1 311 commercial ships in Russia’s territorial waters have experienced GPS spoofing since February 2016. They were only able to correct their courses, the report said, because they were able to rely on alternative tracking systems.

    “C4ADS detected at least 7 910 instances where victim vessels located outside of Russian territorial waters fell victim to GNSS spoofing activity,” the report added.

    Civilian systems are usually more vulnerable to interference activities than encrypted military GNSS receivers.

    Two years ago, the US Maritime Administration issued a warning for vessels in the Black Sea, a first of its kind, EurActiv reported.

    The report warns that “the low-cost commercial availability, and ease of deployment of these technologies will empower not only states but also insurgents, terrorists and criminals in a wide range of destabilising state-sponsored and non-state illicit networks.”

    Both Norway and Finland said they had electronic proof that Russian forces disrupted GPS signals before and during NATO’s military exercises last year, but Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov describing Norway’s allegations as a “fantasy” unless Oslo provides facts.

    NATO officials backed the allegations however. Speaking in Paris to reporters on November 11, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “we see that cyber, electronic warfare, electronic means are used more and more frequent[ly] in different operations, and therefore we take all these issues very seriously”.

    NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu said: “Finland has expressed concern over possible jamming in Lapland. In view of the civilian usage of GPS, jamming of this sort is dangerous, disruptive, and irresponsible. In general, we see cyberattacks and electronic warfare used with greater frequency and severity.”

    Jamie Shea, a retired NATO assistant secretary general of its Emerging Threats Division, working in the United Kingdom, told the Atlantic Council: “We’ve seen transmitters going down mysteriously in Sweden, hacking of soldiers’ personal devices in the Baltics, disruptions to mobile phone networks in Lithuania during maritime exercises and so on.”

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