What Is GPS Spoofing & How To Ensure GPS Security?

  • By Rita
  • Mar 25, 2022

GPS Spoofing

With technological advancements, GPS devices have become more affordable, and our lives have become increasingly dependent on precise positioning and timing. GPS is now the standard way for travelers to efficiently get from one point to another.

GPS has introduced unparalleled opportunities to businesses and individuals. However, this isn't always a great thing because GPS devices can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks through spoofing. Let’s explore all that relates to spoofing and how to ensure GPS security. 

What Is GPS Spoofing and How Does It Work?

How GPS Spoofing works

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have been around for years now, and GPS is just one of those systems. Spoofing of GPS signals occurs when an attacker mimics an original GPS signal by overriding it with a fake GPS satellite signal. The resulting "spoofed" signal gives the receiver an altered position, navigation, or timing.

For example, have you ever driven to your local shopping center, but your GPS shows that you're at the library? If your GPS has ever insisted that you're somewhere you aren't, then you probably may have fallen victim to spoofing of GPS signals.

So, how does it work?

To understand how spoofing works, we need to understand how Global Navigation Satellite Systems work. The satellites orbit the earth in medium earth orbit, around 12,550 miles above the ground, transmitting communication signals to our devices.

Because these satellite signals have to travel such a great distance, they're usually relatively weak when they reach your device. GPS signals are open and unencrypted. This makes them easy targets for anyone who would like to record, transmit, or alter them.

In a GPS spoofing attack, a terrestrial radio transmitter mimics GPS signals at a greater signal strength than the actual system can handle. This replaces the accurate GPS signals with the fake mimicked signals.

But how does one spoof a GPS signal? It usually involves a GPS spoofer or spoofing technology, like an application. These alter GPS signals, and to do so; the transmitter has to be near the GPS-enabled device that one wants to spoof. From there, it mimics the signal and tricks the GPS receiver on the device into showing another location.

In the past, spoofing technology was hard to acquire. It used to be an expensive technology that only militaries could get. However, it's very easy to get a hold of such a transmitter today. A GPS jammer is now available on the internet for close to $100. So, virtually anyone can spoof GPS signals.

Who Spoofs GPS, and Why?

Every piece of technology that uses satellite navigation is vulnerable to spoofing. Spoofing technology is virtually free, widely available, and very popular. Everyone practically uses spoofing, from Vladimir Putin to privacy enthusiasts to Uber drivers and teenagers. 

Because it’s virtually accessible to anyone, GPS security has become a significant concern. There are many reasons behind GPS signal alterations. They include:

  1. Accessing country-specific features

    Some people use spoofing to alter their device’s receivers to allow them to access country-restricted content, features, games, applications, and even shows and movies.

    For example, some shows on streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and more are only available in certain countries. Since traveling to another country to view a show isn't feasible, spoofing can help you alter your actual location allowing you to access the country-restricted shows. Many people use a VPN for this exact purpose.

  2. For military operations

    Initially, the military was meant to use GPS systems. Ironically, the army was still the first to spoof GPS as well. Most militaries might GPS mimic their locations to disguise their activities. Militaries can also conduct a GPS spoofing attack for tactical navigation, guided weaponry, and command and control functions.

  3. To prevent movement tracking and hide locations

    Many people use spoofing to produce a fake GPS location to prevent applications from precisely tracking their movements. Most people do it to maintain a semblance of control over their data by instructing applications to reflect an incorrect location.

    Teenagers also use spoofing to hide their location from prying parents. That’s how easy spoofing has become.

  4. To hide criminal activities

    Criminals can also use spoofing to cover fraudulent activities like kidnappings, carjackings, evidence tampering, or they can cause mass hysteria by spoofing vehicles to cause accidents. They might also spoof GPS to redirect victims toward dangerous destinations, online or in person.

Commercial Hazards

Spoofing of GPS signals shouldn't be confused with GPS jamming. GPS jamming occurs when a criminal blocks GPS signals altogether. While GPS jamming seems to be the more significant threat, spoofing can deliver massive damage to businesses.

Spoofing allows hackers and other cybercriminals to interfere with navigation systems without operators becoming aware. The fake GPS feeds cause drivers, ship captains, and other operators to go off course.

Spoofing is not only dangerous for individuals, but it also poses a threat to businesses. Businesses that are particularly vulnerable to spoofing include:

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1. Shipping companies

Shipping companies that move freight through the land, air, and sea use GPS-based navigation systems to transport cargo safely. Spoofing usually leaves these shipments vulnerable to hijacking and theft.

An example is where criminals spoof GPS signals to misdirect a vehicle to a location where the cargo can be stolen and hide the vehicle’s location while it’s happening. Also, most shippers use GPS-enabled locks that can only open when the cargo reaches its destination. Spoofing the GPS signal usually undoes these locks.

Shipping companies lose millions of dollars in cargo each year due to spoofing of GPS signals

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2. Construction companies

Specialized tools, equipment, and machinery are expensive assets that commonly go missing on worksites in the construction industry. Most construction companies usually seek to track them. 

GPS asset tracking systems have become popular to ensure construction equipment, tools, and machinery don't go missing from worksites in recent years. Using spoofing, a thief can move these assets to a new location without anyone being the wiser.

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3. Taxi and ride-sharing services

Taxi and ride-sharing services have become quite popular nowadays. Spoofing of GPS signals can allow drivers to fake their locations for various reasons, including:

  • To commit criminal acts while working and hide their locations.
  • To fraudulently place themselves in surge areas to get more money for their services.

These activities can pose a financial and reputational risk to taxi and ride-sharing companies. It's also potentially dangerous for passengers.

Tips on Ensuring GPS Security

Here are some tips to help you steer clear of a GPS spoofing attack:

  • Install decoy antennas - Install decoy antennas in plain view and far away from real ones. This will ensure any spoofing attack won’t interfere with legitimate signals. An appropriate distance is at least 300m away.
  • Carefully choose antenna locations - The ideal antenna location should have a clear view of the sky. Buildings and other structures block signals from the ground or nearby public places.
  • Obscure antennas - Install antennas in areas that aren't visible to the general public or set up barriers like plastic fencing that hide their location without interfering with GPS signals.
  • Keep up with good cyber hygiene - To prevent spoofing attacks, individuals and organizations should change and update passwords regularly, install security patches and updates, use firewalls and virus protection, consider using multi-factor authentication, and other cyber defenses.
  • Turn off GPS-enabled devices that aren’t in use - Individuals and businesses that use GPS-enabled equipment should ensure that their equipment is offline when not in use. This will prevent spoofing attacks.
  • Add antennas - Install two or more antennas at different ends of a building or ship to allow you to spot problems and immediately switch to the backup navigation systems.

GPS tracking and location sharing present real privacy issues. GPS spoofing can cause significant problems for individuals, businesses, and governments. Despite this, it also allows users to protect themselves from dangers and security risks. So, clearly, the right balance has to be struck.

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