The Russian government has been deliberately and systematically interfering with the global navigation satellite system (GNSS), a network that is the backbone of much of the global positioning system (GPS) technology around the world, including essentially all of nearby Britain’s critical infrastructure, Business Insider reports. The interference can confuse devices that use GPS, including navigation tools for ships, aircraft, and other vehicles. The hacking activity was uncovered by a security think tank, the Centre for Advance Defense (C4AD).
In addition to confusing GPS navigation more or less on demand, the Russians have been discovered using the interference to mask certain locations from GPS-dependent scrutiny. As The Inquisitr documented, one such case was the masking of Putin’s summer villa, where a spoofing array helps create a de facto no-fly zone around the property, which is reportedly worth as much as $1 billion. This was determined after researchers discovered a mysterious area over Cape Idokopas, near Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast of Russia, where it appeared to maintain a permanent GNSS spoofing zone.
The technology has also been used to create confusion around Putin personally as he travels, interfering with nearby vehicles in the surrounding area.
“The geographical placement of the spoofing incidents closely aligns with places where Vladimir Putin was making overseas and domestic visits, suggesting that Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president. The incidents also align with the locations of Russian military and government resources. Although in some areas the motive was likely to restrict access to or obstruct foreign military,” according to Digital Shadows, an international a cyber security monitoring service.
While it would be reasonable to assume that someone in Putin’s position, with substantial financial resources and access to high-quality military technology, would have access to the equipment and knowledge necessary to make use of such a device, the technology has become surprisingly inexpensive and easy to access.
In the summer of 2013, an American research team managed to essentially hijack an $80 million super yacht by using a similar, if slightly more dated, approach. The attack successfully fooled the ship’s systems into thinking the entire vessel was in a different location. The ship’s captain was unable to determine the proper location of the ship and was making course adjustments based on bogus location data. This trick was accomplished using a device the size of a small briefcase and costing less than $2,000.
Since then, the devices have only become less expensive and easier to procure.
In fact, they can now be purchased for as little as $300 and have been known to be used for cheating at Pokemon GO, the GPS-based mobile game for smartphones.