Washington, September 23 : Cornell researchers have shown that it is possible to dupe global positioning system (GPS) into providing wrong navigation signals to tell a receiver his/her exact location.
GPS is a U.S. navigation system of more than 30 satellites circling Earth twice a day in specific orbits, transmitting signals to receivers on land, sea and in air to calculate their exact locations.
Professors Paul Kintner and Mark Psiaki demonstrated how a navigation device could be fooled by programming a briefcase-size GPS receiver, which is used in ionospheric research, to send out fake signals.
In their research paper, the researchers say that the "phony" receiver can track, modify, and retransmit the signals being transmitted from the GPS satellite constellation when placed in the proximity of a navigation device.
Gradually, the "victim" navigation device would take the counterfeit navigation signals for the real thing, they add.
The study attains significance considering the rising popularity of the GPS technology.
"GPS is woven into our technology infrastructure, just like the power grid or the water system. If it were attacked, there would be a serious impact," said Kintner, Cornell professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Cornell GPS Laboratory.
By demonstrating the vulnerability of receivers to spoofing, the researchers believe that they can help devise methods to guard against such attacks.
"Our goal is to inspire people who design GPS hardware to think about ways to make it so the kinds of things we're showing can be overcome," said Psiaki, Cornell professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
The U.S. Government addressed the issue of GPS receiver spoofing in a December 2003 report, detailing seven "countermeasures" against such an attack.
However, the new research suggests that such countermeasures would not have successfully guarded against the signals produced by their reprogrammed receiver.
"We're fairly certain we could spoof all of these, and that's the value of our work," said the study's first author Todd Humphreys.
A paper on the findings was presented at a meeting of the Institute of Navigation, held on September 19 in Savannah, Georgia.