Russia has been one of the epicenters of shady activity on the Internet for years. For instance, long before the Kremlin hacked the 2016 election, Russia’s biggest claim to cyber-infamy was its status as a major source of inbox-clogging spam. Many of this junk includes bogus email address and Websites that appear to be spoofing efforts to get you off their email lists, but are actually used to confirm that your email address is real–thus opening the door for more spam.
In other words, despite many right-wingers’ falling all over themselves to either thank or excuse Russia for its funny business three years ago, it’s been amply demonstrated that Russia is an Internet rogue state. We recently got another reminder with news that Russia is actively monkeying around with the satellites that control the world’s navigational systems.
What we know as GPS is actually part of a worldwide system of satellites called the global navigation satellite system, or GNSS. It not only includes the United States’ GPS, but the European Union’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS. For some time, experts have been tracking reports of Russian operatives hacking into the GNSS system and sending bogus navigational data to ships and aircraft.
As early as 2017, New Scientist reported on ships sailing through the Black Sea getting bogus data. Watch New Scientist’s coverage of this spoofing gambit here.
Several ships reported that their GPS systems were telling them that they were actually at an airport several kilometers away from their actual location. This led to fears that Russia had developed a new and potentially devastating cyberweapon. According to a report from the UK Space Agency, “all critical national infrastructures” depend on GNSS data. In the UK alone, an attack on Galileo could cost the country £1 billion, or just over US$1.3 billion.
An attack on our GPS could cost far more than that. After all, our phones and power stations, as well as police, first responders, and airports, are just a sample of what depends on GPS time and location data.
As catastrophic as this spoofing could potentially be, it was long believed that Russia was doing this primarily in an effort to protect its strongman, Vladimir Putin. Many of the reports of GNSS spoofing have come in and around the Kremlin, as well as in and around areas where Putin travels or vacations. The area around Putin’s vacation home on the Black Sea, for instance, is considered a “permanent GNSS spoofing zone.”
But according to a recent report by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, over 9,800 incidents of bogus GNSS information have been reported by over 1,000 ships. That’s an alarming and indiscriminate figure by any standard. Confirming this, Digital Shadows reports that based on its own monitoring, GNSS spoofing is “more indiscriminate and persistent” than we’ve previously known.
In other words, Russia has a potentially deadly weapon at its disposal, and is led by a man who has few qualms about using it. This is yet another reminder that Russia is not our friend.
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