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Researcher Reveals Gps Vulnerabilities

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University of Texas assistant professor Todd Humphreys

University of Texas assistant professor Todd Humphreys says that in less than one hour he spoofed a GPS reference receiver to send spurious signals.

Credit: Cornell University

University of Texas professor Todd Humphreys says the smart electric grid is susceptible to spoofing attacks that target global positioning system (GPS) timing signals. Humphreys says he has successfully spoofed a type of laboratory time reference receiver of the code division multiple access (CDMA) with a transmitter he built for about $1,000. He says the spoof literally dragged the time of the reference receiver backward to induce a 10-microsecond delay in an hour, adding that such an attack could incapacitate the cellular network technology of CDMA-based carriers.

He also was able to degrade the precise signals provided by a type of timing receiver to synchrophasors in less than an hour. Although a spoofing attack against synchrophasors would not take down the power system, "it would make the smart grid less smart," Humphreys says. He notes that attacks against multiple cellular base stations in any city could shut down the network.

Including data authentication in the civil GPS signal is the best way to prevent spoofing, and could be done at "almost no price," says consultant Logan Scott.

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