Light Reading

We're Jamming: GPS Weakness Could Sink Wireless

Dan Jones
12/10/2013
50%
50%
Repost This

A timing expert from the National Institute of Standards is concerned that the ease with which GPS signals can be jammed could spell trouble for wireless networks, as well as many other commercial endeavors, in the coming years.

Dr. Marc Weiss of the Time and Frequency division of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laid out his concerns at the recent Mobile Network Security Strategies conference in New York City. Weiss said that wireless networks increasingly require pinpoint accurate timing to synchronize transmissions between basestations and deliver faster connectivity, and they rely on global positioning system (GPS) signals from satellites to deliver that data.

"Most industries don't even know how dependent they are on GPS," Weiss told the crowd. "The problem is it's vulnerable -- the signals are extremely weak."

Weiss should know -- he's been working in this field for more than 30 years. (If you want to dig into the technical details of using a GPS signal to synchronize clocks to a standardized time, here's a paper he wrote on the topic in 1980.)

Weiss said it only takes a picowatt at the antenna to block GPS signals in the vicinity. "I've heard of garage door openers blocking GPS," he said.

This means that a number of unintentional and malicious jamming possibilities could drown out GPS and thereby affect transmissions over wireless networks.

Weiss cited the infamous example of a trucker who sped past Newark airport at the same time every week with a GPS jammer blazing -- to stop being tracked by his employers -- and shut down the navigation systems at the airfield.

And regular Light Reading readers will remember the major problems that LightSquared faced because its network signals were found to interfere with GPS. (See LightSquared: The Company That Won't Die.)

The issue is set to become an even greater concern as small cell basestations are added to the edge of mobile networks, and it was a topic of debate during the Q&A session at the end of Weiss's presentation. Several conference attendees asked whether the Precision Time Protocol (PTP) could be an alternative method of synchronizing radio access network infrastructure. (See Synching Up Small-Cell Backhaul.)

"The problem with PTP is you can only go a couple of hops and have it keep the timing," said Weiss. (It should be noted that some in the audience didn't appear to agree with that analysis.)

Weiss's real concern, however, is the prospect of malicious jamming from parties deploying much more powerful megawatt devices. North Korea has reportedly been attempting to use such transmitters to block the GPS on US spy planes since 2011.

The NIST guy's worry is that someone could smuggle a powerful jammer into a big city such as New York and blot out navigation channels and communications networks while remaining undetected. "The US lacks the capability to rapidly detect and geo-locate malicious GPS jamming."

As Weiss suggests, this has wider implications beyond the wireless industry. He also said that GPS spoofing has already been used to take down a "drone helicoper" by convincing it that down was up. (See Here Come the WiFi Drones.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

(8)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Dan Jones
50%
50%
Dan Jones,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/16/2013 | 2:40:03 PM
Re: Need for fallback
So is it, to your knowledge, being implemented in small cells yet?

Weiss seemed to believe that European carriers were spending more on alternatives to GPS than their US counterparts.
Vitesse Semiconductor
50%
50%
Vitesse Semiconductor,
User Rank: Lightning
12/16/2013 | 2:37:14 PM
Re: Need for fallback
It is already commercially available
Dan Jones
50%
50%
Dan Jones,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/16/2013 | 1:22:50 PM
Re: Need for fallback
So would you say this silicon is widely commercially available yet? Or testing, sampling etc?
Vitesse Semiconductor
50%
50%
Vitesse Semiconductor,
User Rank: Lightning
12/16/2013 | 1:16:16 PM
Re: Need for fallback
We agree, in part, with Dr. Weiss' assertion that PTP can only maintain timing over a couple of hops. However, this is an implementation issue, rather than a protocol-specific issue. If network operators implement a simple, low-cost transparent clock or boundary clock on intermediate nodes, they can maintain PTP timing over many, many hops. An ITU-T demonstration in 2012 showed that time stamping in the PHY chips can keep time errors around 25-50ns – even over 10 hops. For transparent clocks, these time errors can be filtered out so they typically will perform even better.  This level of accuracy is sufficient even for LTE-Advanced, which requires times errors of 500ns or less. For macro networks, therefore, PTP can be a perfect backup to GPS. Plus, operators can move grand master clocks further into the network to be housed in secure locations where GPS is harder to compromise.

For small cell networks though, GPS becomes far less reliable. Thanks to recent advances in silicon technology, PTP can maintain timing without interfering with network encryption. Any multi-hop network requires this combination of security and timing, but small cells are particularly vulnerable and will need to rely on PTP as the primary timing solution.

Sarah Reedy's article from late November, and the discussion that followed, highlighted small cells' dual challenge of security and timing:

http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/mobile-security/small-cells-exposed!-securing-the-mini-rans/d/d-id/706759
Dan@LightReadingMobile
50%
50%
Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/11/2013 | 11:34:34 AM
Re: Need for fallback
Yep, add more LTE cells in the form of small cells and the sync and phase problem gets worse too.
rameshchandra0
100%
0%
rameshchandra0,
User Rank: Lightning
12/11/2013 | 1:22:46 AM
Re: Need for fallback
This is more prone to LTE because of phase requirement. I guess, development of boundary clock functionality in transport shall maintain phase & frequency to more number of hops in PTP. Having PTP does not rule out jamming of GPS used with Grandmaster impacting whole network.

There is need for develoment of periodic reactivation of GPS while Grandmaser is in holdover mode for couple of hours. 

Ramesh
Dan@LightReadingMobile
50%
50%
Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/10/2013 | 11:08:07 AM
Re: Need for fallback
Yes, Weiss suggested that European carriers are actually spending more on hardware assisted PTP, which he said works as a back-up/supplement to GPS.

He doesn't think US carriers are investing in assisted PTP so much because they haven't seen problems with GPS yet and so don't see the need to spend the money on it.
MordyK
50%
50%
MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/10/2013 | 10:41:00 AM
Need for fallback
This highlights the need for backups to the "newfangled" technologies.

The early cellphone and car navigation systems relied solely on GPS which caused problems in urban canyons and under overpasses, but adding in WiFi and Cell ID along with sensor fusion which brought the old dead reckoning into the mix improved it.

The same applies to all new technologies, where its important not to forget the old which can be used as a fallback as well as creating backups - even at considerable expense - to ensure that services we come to rely on simply don't collapse.

During the blackout a few years back this came to the fore when old plain phones had DC power and service but most peopledidnt have operating phones because the were using "smarter"phones - or VoIP - which required AC power, which was also why the internet went down.

This same issue arose with Sandy when cell towers relied on a single source of both power and backhaul, which when cut effectively disabled the network (even with a few hours of diesel). There are technologies such as microwave and some new power sources which while expensive can be used for alternative sources, which although not cost effective nor "entirely" capable of supoporting our new needs, can still provide interim reduced capabilities.
Flash Poll
LRTV Custom TV
Optimizing SDN & NFV Architectures Through Application Awareness

4|23|14   |   6:24   |   (0) comments


Jerome Tollet, CTO at Qosmos, explains how network equipment vendors and operators deploying SDN and NFV can take advantage of network intelligence delivered by DPI to strengthen products and services.
LRTV Custom TV
Wind River Demonstrates Carrier-Grade Software for NFV

4|22|14   |   5:00   |   (0) comments


Wind River VP of Product Management, Glenn Seiler, takes a look the industry's first and only complete NFV software platform designed specifically for the unique carrier-grade and high-performance needs of telecom networks.
LRTV Documentaries
Cable Eyes Big Technology Shifts

4|16|14   |   03:02   |   (4) comments


US cable engineers are facing a lot of heavy lifting in the coming years, notes Light Reading Cable/Video Practice Leader Alan Breznick.
LRTV Custom TV
Maximizing Customer Experience & Assuring Service Delivery in an IP World

4|15|14   |   4:57   |   (0) comments


Steven Shalita, VP of Marketing, NetScout Systems, Inc., discusses the challenges cable/MSO operators face in assuring the delivery of new IP-based services. Key points include the value of proactively managing performance, and using rich analytics and operational intelligence to better understand service and usage trends, make smarter business decisions and ...
LRTV Documentaries
Bye-Bye DVD: Consumers Embrace Digital Video

4|10|14   |   04:17   |   (7) comments


Veteran video analyst Colin Dixon, founder and principal analyst of nScreenMedia, says research shows 56% are using digital video already.
LRTV Documentaries
Video: TW Cable Puts Multicast Gateways to the Test

4|8|14   |   04:13   |   (1) comment


Tom Gonder, a chief architect at Time Warner Cable, explains how its trial of multicast gateways is impacting IP-based video plans.
LRTV Custom TV
Managing & Monetizing Big Data in Operator Environments

4|7|14   |     |   (1) comment


At Mobile World Congress, Gigamon's Director of Service Provider Solutions, Andy Huckridge, and Heavy Reading Analyst Sarah Wallace discuss the 'big data' issues facing carriers and operators today.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Data Center Energy – Build Your Data Center in a Modular Way

4|7|14   |   2:13   |   (0) comments


Dr. Fang Liangzhou, VP Network Energy Product Line, shared his thoughts about the challenges for data centers during CeBIT 2014.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Agile Network Solution – An Overview of Huawei's Agile Network Solution

4|7|14   |   2:31   |   (0) comments


Ajay Gupta, Director of Product Marketing, Networking Product Line, gives an overview of the Agile Network Solutions during CeBIT 2014.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s eLTE Voice Trunking, Video and Data Applied for Railways

4|7|14   |   1:38   |   (0) comments


Gottfried Winter is the Sales Director at Funkwerk, a German specialist in GSM-r terminals and a long-time partner of Huawei. At CeBIT 2014, Winter talks to Light Reading about this partnership and the integration of enhanced voice trunking, video and data functions.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
LeaseWeb Speaks Highly of Huawei's Datacenter Products

4|7|14   |   1:37   |   (0) comments


Rene Olde Olthof, Operations Director LeaseWeb, talks about the next data center transformation during CeBIT 2014.
LRTV Documentaries
Comcast: Reshaping the Cable Network Architecture

4|3|14   |   07:11   |   (8) comments


Shamim Akhtar, Comcast's architect and senior director of network strategy, explains why the cable company is moving to a more distributed network architecture.
Hot Topics
WhatsApp Threatens Carrier VoLTE
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 4/18/2014
The Hungry, Hungry Cloud
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/22/2014
Who's Ready to Play Broadband?
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 4/21/2014
What's the Magic of Private Equity?
Carolyn Mathas, 4/22/2014
AT&T Turns Up Gig Heat in 21 New Metros
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/21/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed