Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I hope all those container ships have paper charts

Quite some time ago I posted about how GPS was hacked.  That was a proof of concept but it looks like this has been weaponized by persons (nation state actors?) unknown:
When it came time for the Manukai to head for its own berth, the bridge began echoing to multiple alarms. Both of the ship’s GPS units—it carried two for redundancy—had lost their signals, and its AIS transponder had failed. Even a last-ditch emergency distress system that also relied on GPS could not get a fix.
Now, new research and previously unseen data show that the Manukai, and thousands of other vessels in Shanghai over the last year, are falling victim to a mysterious new weapon that is able to spoof GPS systems in a way never seen before.
It seems that lots of ships are effected, at least those in Shanghai.  And it's a sophisticated attack"
Although the American ship’s GPS signals initially seemed to have just been jammed, both it and its neighbor had also been spoofed—their true position and speed replaced by false coordinates broadcast from the ground. This is serious, as 50% of all casualties at sea are linked to navigational mistakes that cause collisions or groundings.
Click through for the whole article which includes a spectacular video of pedestrians scattering as a ship rams the riverbank promenade.

There's a lot of speculation about who is behind this and why.  Interestingly, one of the suspects is black market sand dealers.  Sand is a critical component of concrete and is in surprisingly short supply.

All I can say is that if this plays out as stated in the article, there are huge implications all over.  Ship navigation may be the least of the problems.


BC said...

There was talk about this same kind of thing being a factor in the recent US Navy ship collisions too. I saw nothing hard or verifiable, but lots of speculation at the time.

Comrade Misfit said...

And the FAA, in its infinite wisdom, has been decommissioning VOR stations and ADF beacons in favor of GPS-only navigation. LORAN is dead.

Eggs; basket; one. That rarely works out.

Borepatch said...

Comrade, having a backup system makes everything more robust under attack. Quite frankly, I'd think that the Navy would be motivated to take these beacons over after their recent ship driving problems.

And thinking about attack surfaces, the old post of mine linked above cited a 3% location error in the attack. 3% of New York to Los Angeles is a big difference, especially when you start thinking about air traffic control lanes and vectors. Could you cause a plan to drift into a different plane's vector? I don't know but the FAA should damn well be asking this question.

SiGraybeard said...

I know Comrade Misfit is a small craft pilot, but in the ADF receiver business, the conventional wisdom is that they'll be around forever. Because they aren't limited to just NDBs (Non Directional Beacons) and can use AM broadcast radio or anything up to some shortwave frequencies (I think it was 15 MHz), pilots can listen to the ball game and navigate by that station. ADFs were considered obsolete around 25 years ago when I went to work in that business, but when we did our new series of small aircraft radios in 2003, we included one. We did a commercial level VOR and ILS (Instrument Landing Systems) receiver in 2011 so they were expected to be around for a while. The industry is slow to change.

But ... day-um. That GPS spoofing thing is scary. I thought it was a bad sign when you could buy a GPS jammer on eBay, but this is a whole 'nother level.

Matt W said...

Ship and aircraft navigation are two very obvious and very critical areas that could be vulnerable, but I wonder how this could also apply to things like emergency responders who are relying more and more on GPS location services to tell them where to respond to an incident. In a terrorist event you could potentially interrupt the ability of first responders to quickly get to the scene by feeding false coordinates.

Borepatch said...

Graybeard, it's no longer a jammer - it's an exploit. :-(

Matt W, I hope that DoD and DHS are looking really hard at this because there are a million ways that it could be used to attack things. Lots of things.

Paul L. Quandt said...

Electrons are sneaky bastards. Very few people have ever seen one. I, for one, do not trust them. Paper maps, paper everything is the way to go.

Thanks for the post.
Paul L. Quandt