GPS devices can be spoofed

24 09 2008

Spoofing it’s a jargon word which in communication and computer domains generally applies to situations implying one person/device successfully deceiving another person/device. The spoofer makes him/her/it believe to communicate/exchange data with the correct interlocutor while instead this role has been embezzled by the spoofer.

A common example of spoofing is the classic man-in-the-middle attack where an attacker spoofs an Alice into believing the spoofer is her friend Bob. The attacker then spoofs Bob into believing he/her/it is Alice. In this way the spoofer can gain access to all the messages being exchanged by the couple. Spoofing is a way to succeed in such an operation without having to deal with cryptography systems breaching.

Physorg reports that Cornell researchers have demonstrated that GPS devices can be successfully spoofed by a spoofer device located nearby. The spoofer receives the tracking signals from the satellite constellation and send out fake signals to deceive, within the signal range, receiving navigation systems.

The purpose of the researchers is that of warning navigation systems manufacturers and pushing them to take countermeasures in order to prevent that such a thing can take place in reality.

Moreover the article states also that GPS systems are nowadays deeply interconnected with our technological infrastructure such as the power or water grid. In this sense, have you got any ideas about which other threats can be caused by spoofed GPS systems?

Is this science fiction or can it turn into a real threat to our increasing dependency to technological devices?

I don’t see many reasons one should want to spoof a navigation system to throw the user off his/her track. However the most obvious to me is the possibility to lure a target into a trap. Thieves, or worse, could lure tourists armed with handheld navigation devices to remote areas and then attack them. A worse scenario implies terrorists spoofing the GPS systems of their targets to make them fall into their traps

The whole idea of such kind of threats is scaring but makes me think about the fact that many people think malwares such as viruses and similars are normally aimed only to damage their computers or devices. In reality this is the less important and the most trivial threat one can expect from a “digital” attacker. We are getting more and more dependant on technological systems and devices. Despite all the concerns for security issues the vast majority of the world population, at least those living in the so-called rich countries, totally relies on computers and all sorts of techno-gadgets. Criminals take advantage of it to perpetrates crimes such ad blackmail, theft, and other even worst felonies which damage people not directly but mediated by a technological system. Of course the way our society is getting techno-dependant is not something one would like struggle against. Technology has mostly changed our lives for the better and I tend to think that the drawbacks are really microscopic compared to the advantages. One must only be aware that people nature hasn’t changed at all; we’re still far away from the Trekkie consciousness of life and technology can be -and it is- used to threat us.

Credit: picture by Jimmy_Joe licensed under this Creative Commons license

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