France: ESA has claimed that its advanced simulation software developed is now helping to extend cybersecurity to the crucial sphere of satellite navigation.
For the product, ESA turned to a small Italian company called Qascom, founded a decade ago by a small group of engineers with experience in both satnav and security systems. The company had begun developing the simulator internally before being contracted by ESA for its further development.
Post the results, Spirent and Qascom concluded a partnership agreement to develop the offering further and offer laboratory test solutions for testing the resilience of receivers to spoofing attacks.
Qascom has said that it is targeting at least three types of customer for its SimSAFE software. First are the GNSS receiver developers, who want to check for any product vulnerabilities; developers of applications whose systems are based around GNSS; and governmental entities or agencies who might not be producing physical products but are tasked with writing regulations or technical standards.
A second simulator product called QA707 has also spun-out from the same activity. A radio GNSS signal simulator that works with ordinary computer equipment rather than expensive simulator systems, QA707 is aimed at smaller businesses or university departments.
The potential of spoofing was demonstrated in dramatic fashion in 2012, when University of Texas researchers used fake satnav signals generated with low-cost hardware to take control of a flying drone, forcing it downwards by misleading it on its actual location.
GNSS time signals are used to synchronise financial, power and communication networks, for example. They are also set to underpin critical operations such as fleet management, road tax or tolling, along with ‘safety-of-life’ systems such as air traffic guidance.
ESA claims that the new SimSAFE suite of software allows new products or systems to be evaluated against spoofing. It can simulate intentional interference attacks along with genuine signals from virtual satnav constellations. A prototype version of the software was first put to use by ESA’s Navigation Laboratory for its existing satnav simulator test rack, which had been supplied by simulation specialist Spirent Communication in the UK.