Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 6 News List

S Korea revives GPS backup after North’s ‘jamming’

‘PROVOCATION’:Seoul said North Korea’s latest jamming campaign started on March 31. GPS disruptions can affect transportation, IT networks, the financial system and power

Reuters, SEOUL and LONDON

South Korea has revived a project to build a backup ship navigation system that would be difficult to hack after a recent wave of GPS signal jamming attacks it blamed on North Korea disrupted fishing vessel operations, officials said.

GPS and other electronic navigation aids are vulnerable to signal loss from solar weather effects, radio and satellite interference and deliberate jamming.

South Korea, which says it has faced repeated attempts by the North to interfere with satellite signals, is to award a 15 billion won (US$13 million) contract this month to secure technology required to build an alternative land-based radio system called eLoran, which it hopes will provide reliable alternative position and timing signals for navigation.

“The need for us is especially high, because of the deliberate signal interference by North Korea,” a South Korean government official involved in the initiative said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The latest jamming campaign from the North began on March 31, lasting nearly a week and affecting signal reception of more than 1,000 aircraft and 700 ships, originating from five locations along the border, South Korean officials said.

Aircraft traffic was not affected because the GPS system is normally used as a backup, not a primary navigation tool, one of the officials involved in telecommunications policy said.

The jamming prompted warnings by South Korea’s military to the North to stop what it called “provocation” and a protest at the UN.

North Korea has denied involvement.

South Korea has been on high alert against possible cyberattacks from the North following Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests and threats of war in response to new sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and Seoul.

No major disasters anywhere have been blamed on loss of GPS, although the risks are growing as sea lanes become more crowded.

Part of the problem is that it is not easy to detect a GPS outage caused by jamming.

“When GPS/GNSS [global navigation satellite systems] fail, transportation is impacted immediately. It slows down, becomes more dangerous, and every mode can carry less capacity,” said Dana Goward, president of the non-profit Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation.

“As short-term backup clocks start to desynchronize with each other ... cellphone towers start to fail, IT [information technology] networks slow down or fail, financial systems are impacted, management of the electrical grid becomes problematic. That is the really scary part,” Goward said.

GPS vulnerability poses security and commercial risks, especially for ships whose crews are not familiar with traditional navigation techniques or using paper charts.

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