GPS Threat Mitigation - Why Network Time Users Should Care

Are you one of the many millions whose organizations rely on global navigation satellite systems, or GNSSs, and other highly accurate sources of timing and synchronization? You may not know it, but floating up in the stratosphere doesn't protect satellites from all threats. 

Even high-flying orbital hardware is vulnerable to unique hazards. It's worth understanding what you're up against if you want to engage in effective GPS threat mitigation.

Understanding Satellite Threats

GPS, GLONASS and similar navigation systems function by broadcasting the position and local clock time of satellites that follow precisely known geosynchronous orbits. By listening to multiple messages from different satellites, a local client can calculate its actual time and relative position based on the comparative delays. 

Although this system is mathematically sound, there are many potential mishaps. For example, a receiver may come up with the wrong time when:

  • A signal gains extra multipath delay after bouncing off of an object, like a large landmass, without also having a direct-path signal to use instead
  • An antenna fails because it's installed improperly or becomes damaged by an event like a lightning strike
  • Solar flare-induced ionization causes excessive signal noise that prevents a GPS receiver from discerning a clear signal

Of course, not all forms of GPS threats are unintentional or environmental. In certain cases, third parties actively attempt to compromise the integrity of GPS time. This may take the form of actions such as:

  • GPS spoofing wherein someone broadcasts a fraudulent GPS signal and transmits it at high power to overwhelm the client receiver
  • GPS jamming involving the transmission of noise in the same frequency range used by civilian GPS to stop receivers from obtaining and holding a lock on a signal

Fighting Back

Problems that impact GPS timing can be hard to combat. For instance, there's no stopping solar flares, and environmental events can cause momentary signal losses that open the door to other vulnerabilities. So how can you ensure the integrity of your GPS-based network timing? 

Choosing the right GPS time instruments is always a good start. Researchers note the importance of using devices that have been tested for spoofing vulnerabilities. Risk assessment is also vital to any successful real-world deployment. In other words, your selection of a thoroughly evaluated GPS clock could decide whether you fall prey to a casual hacker with access to off-the-shelf hardware.

Of course, device testing isn't worth much unless you also take steps to improve on known deficiencies. For instance, industry observers suggest that upgrading to advanced antenna hardware can detect many spoofing and jamming attacks. It may also be helpful to consult with an expert about improving your use of hardware tools.

Get Your Network Time Up to Global Standards

Whether you use GPS to maintain accurate UTC for your facility's IP-enabled security system or you simply employ it to keep your distributed scientific control and testing systems synced up, you can't afford to succumb to an unexpected threat. From hackers and unwitting smart device users to regional atmospheric conditions and once-in-a-lifetime solar weather patterns, the world can be a risky place for those who depend on network GPS timing.

Don't let GPS threats control how your organization keeps time. Talk to a Masterclock guru about creating, deploying and maintaining more robust systems that overcome the toughest challenges that Mother Nature and bad actors throw in your path. With a range of well-tested devices that comply with strict standards and our own rigorous internal benchmarks, you can dramatically improve your security stance. Ask us how to get started with GPS threat mitigation today.