DHS increases awareness of PNT services used in critical infrastructure

PNT services

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) look to increase awareness and security around PNT services with the release of the PNT Integrity Library and Epsilon Algorithm Suite that aims to secure the critical infrastructure sector from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) spoofing, a term that describes the deception of a Global Positioning System (GPS) device through false signals.

Organizations can increase their resilience through responsible use of PNT (positioning, navigation and timing) services, as the national and economic security of the U.S. is dependent on the reliable functioning of critical infrastructure. The DHS resources advance the design of PNT systems and increase resilience of critical infrastructure to PNT disruptions.

Critical infrastructure has in recent years emerged as an essential framework on which most of the nation’s physical and cyber systems and assets are interconnected. Any incapacity or destruction of critical infrastructure sectors could have a debilitating impact on physical or economic security or public health or safety.  Nowadays, the critical infrastructure must also be secured from industrial natural disasters, terrorist activities, and the increasing rise of cyber threats.

Last month, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) rolled out its cybersecurity guidance framework for PNT services.

Available free of charge and in open source, PNT Integrity Library and Epsilon Algorithm Suite strengthens industrial organizations and provides users with a method that verifies the integrity of the received GPS data. The development of good spoofing defenses requires an understanding of the possible attack modes, along with the properties of those modes that can be exploited for defense purposes.

The PNT Integrity Library is focused at GNSS receivers and GNSS-based timing server OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) for use in future development or integration into existing products and platforms. It lays out a scalable framework for GNSS-based PNT manipulation detection that offers varying levels of protection based on the available data.

With the Epsilon Algorithm Suite, users will be able to determine the discrepancies in position, velocity, and clock observables commonly provided by GPS receivers. It will also provide end-users with fundamental spoofing detection capabilities without any alterations to the existing GPS receiver.

“We are excited to release these resources to the PNT community to improve resiliency against potential GPS signal loss,” said Brannan Villee, DHS S&T PNT Program Manager in a press statement.

PNT has emerged as a critical component for the working and operating of the nation’s critical infrastructure. The wide-ranging adoption of GPS as the primary source of PNT services and information makes these sectors vulnerable to adversaries seeking to cause harm by disrupting or manipulating the GPS signal. When PNT is used in combination with map data and other information like weather or traffic data, it leads to GPS.

“Since GPS signals can be jammed or spoofed, critical infrastructure systems should not be designed with the assumption that GPS data will always be available or will always be accurate,” said Jim Platt, chief of strategic defense initiatives at the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA) National Risk Management Center. “Application of these tools will provide increased security against GPS disruptions.”

In its ‘Improving the Operation and Development of Global Positioning System (GPS) Equipment Used by Critical Infrastructure’ document, the DHS puts together observations and findings from a series of site visits and conversations with critical infrastructure owners and operators, who used GPS in communications, electric power generation and transmission. These customers, very often, come with varying degrees of awareness regarding the capabilities of GPS and GPS-related vulnerabilities and mitigations.

As owners and operators are not always GPS experts, they depend heavily on their OEM suppliers for such awareness. These engagements focused on installation and use of PNT equipment, although additional insights were obtained concerning the need for information derived from GNSS signals, and the effect of incorrect or missing GNSS signal-derived information. Visits with owners and operators only observed reception of the GPS coarse/acquisition (C/A) signal, rather than other GPS signals or signals from other GNSS systems.

The document also picked out 22 specific recommendations for receivers and equipment and existing techniques that can be inserted into new products. These installation and operation strategies and development opportunities can improve the ability of GNSS receivers and associated equipment to defend against a range of interference, jamming, and spoofing attacks.

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