Global Positioning System (GPS) devices triangulate data from several global navigation satellites to determine a position on the earth. This information is provided instantaneously to the unit allowing a moving object to navigate a specified route. Both individuals and commercial entities use GPS units. A hacker is a person or persons who electronically maneuver around security systems to gather information. In some cases, the hacked data is used to disrupt networks to do harm or damage an individual, company or government.
In recent years, there has been a concern that GPS devices may be susceptible to hacking. What would hackers do with this information and how could it be disruptive?
One form of disruption would be misinformation. If a hacker can access the navigation satellite information stream to GPS devices, they may be able to manipulate, change or block that information. If information is blocked, the GPS device becomes useless, but if the information is changed, that will cause chaos. In that case, people or vehicles using that information would receive coordinates for one location when they are actually in a different place. When navigating this could cause accidents as ships to run aground, or airplanes are unable to locate an airport.
The issue of privacy comes into question. Could a hacker follow or locate a person without that person’s knowledge? Remember most phones are GPS devices. In this case, most likely the hacker has accessed the person’s device. There are already friendly uses of this in apps. Those apps allow you to see friends who are near your location, but those apps require permission from each person to enable that information to be shared. In the hands of the wrong person, this information can be a danger.
There is also the issue of spoofing. Spoofing is a relatively new idea that has been tested by researchers to see the possibilities. In this case, a small spoofing device is used to receive the satellite information and then alter it before sending it on to a GPS receiver. The human controllers of the spoofing device can send incorrect information to the GPS to guide a navigating vehicle to a location other than the driver’s intended destination. There is a sophisticated use of map manipulation that fools the driver about the route they are taking. Spoofing works exceptionally well when the driver is unfamiliar with the city or area. It can be detected if the driver pays close attention to street names and other landmarks.
Encryption of the satellite signals would solve these problems. But the task is monumental as there are over a billion GPS devices in use worldwide and all would require updates or replacement. As industries and governments focus on the massive problems a cyber attack on GPS could cause, solutions are being sought. When those solutions are forthcoming is not yet known.