University of Calgary

Are we being spoofed?

UToday HomeDecember 10, 2012

By Meghan Ockey

Ali Jafarnia and Saeed Daneshmand with their technology. Photo by Chris BolinAli Jafarnia and Saeed Daneshmand with their technology. Photo by Chris BolinGlobal navigation satellite systems (GNSS) such as GPS allow users to determine their exact location and time. GNSS receivers are used by many people around the world for various applications, including: air, marine and ground transportations; police and rescue services; telecommunication systems; mobile phone location; and financial trading.

Unfortunately, the publicly known structure of GNSS signals makes them vulnerable to intentional interference attacks. This intentional interference — commonly referred to as “spoofing” — has the potential to cause serious problems, both from the standpoint of national security and in day-to-day life.

University of Calgary Professor Gerard Lachapelle — Canada Research Chair in wireless location in geomatics engineering — along with the University of Calgary Position, Location and Navigation (PLAN) group and a team of graduate students, has developed an innovative detection device to prevent such interference aimed at misdirecting users.

The technology has the potential to significantly impact the security of information globally, and the group is in discussions with potential partners to commercialize the device.

“Spoofing a GNSS receiver means affecting its operation by counterfeit GNSS signals without the user knowing in order to deceive the user,” says Lachapelle. “The question is, is it possible from a very complex engineering point of view to come up with methods to detect and prevent the spoofing? This is what the work of my research team members, Ali Jafarnia and Saeed Daneshmand, has been trying to solve.”

“This technology offers benefits over existing anti-spoofing technologies in terms of cost, complexity, security and portability,” says Rishi Batra, technology analyst, Innovate Calgary. “Collaborations with major GNSS manufacturers are actively being sought for further development of this technology, to integrate it with GPS chipsets and make it available for commercial use.”

“We have come up with a technology which uses a special processing to combat interfering signals,” says Jafarnia. “This device tries to filter out the interfering signals, without affecting the normal performance of the GNSS receiver.”

“There are many other applications. Some people who are developing spoofing methods could use it to create havoc among taxi fleets and police forces. All of those vehicular applications are fitted with GPS, and interfering with the signals would create an incredible problem,” says Lachapelle. “GNSS receivers are used in everything in society, this is why it is such a concern for security agencies; they want to ensure it doesn’t become disruptive and possibly impact national security.”

Spoofing devices are already in use and evolving as quickly as the PLAN group’s technology.

“Spoofer is smart; it hides itself to fool the receiver and come up with another time and position,” says Daneshmand. “Right now we are extending our work to more challenging environments, where there are multiple reflections of the spoofing signal by objects nearby to ensure spoofing cannot happen under these circumstances.”