GPS under siege: Essential strategies for ensuring PNT resilience

Advanced warfare techniques are compromising GPS stability worldwide. Let’s examine the escalating risks and the measures needed to boost PNT security in an era of geopolitical uncertainty.
Gil Biran
Air flypast

In a recent article, Andy Proctor of RethinkPNT highlighted a critical issue: the urgent need to prepare for and address vulnerabilities in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems. Despite a long-standing awareness of these risks, the adoption of robust solutions has been disappointingly slow. Now, with international tensions escalating, the misuse of GPS technology in warfare has become a global concern.

This discussion comes in the wake of a Financial Times article (login required) that draws attention to how military actions are wreaking havoc on civilian life through GPS warfare. Incidents of GPS jamming and spoofing have surged, leading to dangerous and bizarre situations, such as ships appearing to navigate through airports or pilots experiencing sudden navigation failures mid-flight. These aren’t just inconveniences but severe risks, with potential for disastrous navigational errors that could endanger civilian lives.

GNSS vulnerabilities

The core issue is that Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals, which include GPS, are inherently weak and unencrypted, making them susceptible to interference and manipulation. Although these vulnerabilities have been recognized for decades, the recent increase in global conflicts has significantly worsened the scale and impact of these disruptions.

The ease of executing jamming and spoofing attacks, owing to easily available technology and the low cost of implementation, poses a distinct challenge. These disruptions are difficult to trace back to their sources, and the anonymity and portability of the devices used make it difficult to identify attackers’ motives. Consequently, this presents a significant security risk to systems that rely heavily on accurate and reliable GNSS signals.

Governments worldwide are now waking up to the reality that complacency can no longer stand, especially as GNSS dependency expands across critical sectors like mobile, power, broadcast, banking, transportation, public safety and defense. This realization has fueled a growing demand for solutions that ensure uninterrupted PNT services.

Making PNT robust and resilient

At Oscilloquartz, we’ve been at the forefront of developing solutions to address these critical vulnerabilities. Our aPNT+™ platform, now featuring industry-first optical cesium atomic clocks as well as Iridium Satellite Time and Location (STL) technology, represents a significant leap in ensuring the resilience of PNT services.

Key features of the Oscilloquartz aPNT+™ platform

  • Redundant grandmasters with STL
    Technologies such as our OSA 5405-S PTP grandmaster clock and the OSA 5400 STL module integrate STL signals to enhance GNSS resilience. This fortifies the zero-trust architecture and ensures reliable PNT services even when GPS signals fail, making them ideal for both indoor and challenging outdoor environments.
  • Optical cesium atomic clocks
    The OSA 3350 ePRC+ and SePRC with optical pumping technology set a new standard in time and frequency delivery. These optical cesium atomic clocks are designed to meet the most stringent holdover requirements, essential for maintaining network infrastructure integrity during GNSS disruptions.
  • Zero-trust security 
    The zero-trust architecture (ZTA) approach continuously verifies users, devices and applications at all access points, unlike traditional perimeter-based security. Our aPNT+™ platform integrates PTP, STL, GNSS timing sources and optical cesium frequency sources for precise synchronization, essential for event logging and fault diagnosis. Featuring Syncjack™ technology, it enables remote configuration and real-time updates, enhancing network security and resilience. It also provides analytics to compare, verify and select a trusted source, enabling automatic recovery from any PNT cyberattack.
  • AI-empowered management tools
    Our Ensemble Controller and Sync Director tools provide real-time analytics for constant monitoring and management of synchronization networks including third-party vendor equipment. This proactive approach allows for rapid adaptation and response to potential disruptions, ensuring continuous and reliable PNT services.
  • Cyber threat defense capabilities
    Our platform is fortified against jamming, spoofing, and other cyber threats, ensuring robust and reliable timing solutions under all circumstances.

Bridging awareness and action

It’s clear that the path from awareness to action in addressing GNSS vulnerabilities requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. However, as noted by Andy Proctor, too many organizations are passively waiting for governments to supply solutions or to direct them on what actions to take. This trend, often driven by CEOs focusing on short-term returns rather than long-term survival, can undermine broader efforts to enhance resilience in critical infrastructure. The need for stringent regulations – including penalties for non-compliance – is clear. Measures like those already implemented in some parts of the world could be used to compel organizations to prioritize long-term resilience over short-term gains. 

Governments, industries and academia must collaborate to implement resilient PNT solutions. As the landscape of GPS warfare evolves, our Oscilloquartz aPNT+™ platform stands as a bulwark against the increasing threats to GNSS, ensuring that critical infrastructure remains operational and safe from the perils of modern conflicts. We’re committed to leading this technological evolution, prioritizing the understanding of risks, fostering collaboration and investing in innovative solutions.

For more insights, watch Gareth Spence in conversation with Andy Proctor and me, as we discuss the steps governments need to take to fortify mission-critical PNT infrastructure.

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