• David Mitlyng

Weekly Takeaways-November 22, 2021

Updated: Mar 11

Last week Russia shocked the world by launching a wildly destructive anti-satellite missile. Experts speculate that their goal was to send a message that they can easily exploit our reliance on GPS. Or maybe they want to keep up with China, who launched their own anti-satellite tests and possible "satellite crushing weapon." But a recent demonstration by an IBM hacker showed that you don't need a missile to hobble our timing-based infrastructure; all you need is a Raspberry Pi. A new solution is needed.


Russia's anti-satellite test "marked the first time that Russia has demonstrated an ability to strike a satellite using a missile launched from Earth."


What Happens if Time Gets Hacked? At Black Hat Europe a hacker built a "simulated time-signal system using an open source tool...and ran it on Raspberry Pi outfitted with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) antenna" that "overrode the UK region's official low-frequency, radio broadcast-based clock synchronization signal." As the hacker noted: "Unlike other security issues, this risk to time-hacking isn't rooted in software or hardware vulnerabilities: It's more about an aging technology and process."


CNBC’s Kate Rooney reported that 90% of all investments in quantum technology took place in last three years.


Australia will invest more than $100 million in quantum technology, including $70 million to pursue partnerships with “likeminded” countries. As part of this, Australia and the US committed to work to work together to develop "a vibrant, secure, trusted and interconnected quantum ecosystem."


Could quantum sensor technology usher in GPS-free navigation? Not any time soon, but work is progressing. Interesting discussions at the "Protecting GPS Satellites, Signals, and America" conference from a range of US policy experts, including the following quotes: "Some aspects of GPS are probably more critical than others, so I would submit that the timing signal is probably the single most important one, and so in having a diversity of ways of getting timing signals, either as replacement of or into a challenging environment would therefore be a higher priority on the stack. What I would not encourage is the government going out and contracting and trying to build one of these things (an alternative to GPS) itself. The government didn't pave the National Highway system. We probably should be looking for faster cycle time from the private sector, but the government can incentivize that."

Dr. Scott Pace, GWU, Space Studies Institute; Former Executive Secretary, US Space Council "And when I looked at where the single points of failure were in this system, if you want to call it that, in which Russia and the United States are entangled, one that stood out immediately was our GPS vulnerability. In case we had forgotten that these systems are not invulnerable, that we are highly dependent on them, and that in the context of a confrontation between Russia and the West over a place like Ukraine, a place that the Russians believe is absolutely existentially vital to them, they wanted to remind us that that confrontation might not go the way we want it to go." George Beebe, VP for Studies, Center for the National Interest; Author The Russia Trap "The Department of Homeland Security has determined that GPS signals are needed by 13 of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors. But unfortunately GPS signals are very weak and easy to disrupt. Unless GPS services are quickly restored, backup timing, equipment, networks and digital broadcasts begins to desynchronize. And one of the worst impacts of a prolonged disruption is that most US telecommunications networks will be severely disabled within 24 hours."

Greg Winfree, Director, Texas Transportation Institute, Former Asst Secretary, US Department of Transportation