DOD looks for answers on GPS data spoofing

The Defense Department is looking for technology solutions to obviate the growing threat of location data spoofing targeting satellite-based systems.

satellites circling globe (Mirexon/

The Defense Department is looking for solutions that would prevent the growing threat of location data spoofing that can affect satellite-based technology like global positioning systems.

The Defense Innovation Unit published a solicitation looking for commercial solutions that can help sniff out potential global navigation satellite system disruptions, particularly those that result in "falsified" or spoofed location data across large areas.

"The entire world is dependent on GNSS or GNSS-based systems, yet the GPS architecture and its users are vulnerable to denial and manipulation by adversarial actors," the solicitation states. "To date, intentional manipulation of GNSS operations have enabled nefarious activities, to include narcotics trafficking, unapproved operation of autonomous vehicles, illegal fishing, and sea-borne piracy."

Disrupted GPS signals -- which can be anything from delayed timing or having objects in places where they're not -- aren't a new problem for the federal government, including DOD. However, concerns have increased in tandem with the number of location-enabled devices used in everyday life.

And there's a compounded complexity for DOD, especially as more systems are interconnected to improve data sharing, according to Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence.

"What I worry about ... is the things that I don't control or have insight into. And that's dependencies on larger networks, operated by the government or commercial, that provide us information, like position, navigation and timing," Trussler said Aug. 3, during a panel discussion on cyber threats at the Sea Air Space annual conference in National Harbor, Md.

"You can have the greatest war machine ever put to sea, but somehow it gets some misinformation -- not a critical hack or something to the machine itself, but something that supplies the machine information -- that could really throw it off vector. That's what I worry about."

For the Department of Transportation, it's primarily a safety issue, but Karen Van Dyke, the Director for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing and Spectrum Management for the Department of Transportation, said jamming and spoofing GPS signals have become a major focus area.

"It doesn't take much power to jam a GPS over a wide area," Van Dyke said on Aug. 3, adding that being able to spoof a signal over a wide area has become an increasing concern as the number of GPS-enabled devices proliferate.

"The concern is if we have a disruption to GPS, what those cascading effects would be across our critical infrastructure sectors."

Van Dyke said there are two types of spoofing, measurement and data, the former of which can resolve "once the spoofing signal goes away, typically your receiver recovers," while "data spoofing could have long lasting effects, or perhaps your receiver never recovers."

The Department of Transportation is working with the DOD and interagency on a national PNT architecture to better understand the threat environment, infrastructure needs and collaboration.

"GPS relies on radio frequency spectrum that absolutely must be protected from harmful interference and we're doing everything that we can to protect it from authorized sources of interference," Van Dyke said, "but we can't control unauthorized sources of interference -- that is, jamming and spoofing."

The DIU is looking for technologies that can provide a "near-real-time, common operating picture" and is requesting solutions be submitted by Aug. 23.