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For weeks, a mysterious source of GPS interference has been affecting aircraft in the Middle East. Since last spring, pilots flying through airspace around Syria have noted that their GPS systems have displayed the wrong location or even stopped working entirely. A few weeks ago, the issue spread to Israeli airspace when pilots started reporting navigation problems during takeoff and landing at Ben Gurion International Airport. Data collected by Todd Humphreys, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has located the source: the mystery signal originates inside a Russian air base in Syria.

 

This interference to Global Positioning System (GPS) reception does not appear to be targeted at Israel; instead, it is more likely collateral damage resulting from an effort by Moscow to protect its troops in the region in the wake of drone attacks. There is possibly another motivation; Humphreys suggests that a reason behind the interference may be to demonstrate Russia's “dominance in the radio spectrum.”

 

The interfering signals are so powerful, in fact, that they can be seen from space—it is using sensors onboard the International Space Station that Humphreys and his team have been tracking the phenomenon. They were able to pin down the source of the signal: Khmeimim Air Base, the center of Russia's presence in Syria since 2015. According to Humphreys, the interfering signal appears to be a combination of jamming, in which valid GPS signals are drowned out by radio noise, and spoofing, in which valid GPS signals are mimicked in such a way as to cause receivers to report incorrect results.

 

Read the full article featuring Dr. Humphreys in The Times of Israel.

Todd Humphreys is one of five faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin selected to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for 2019. The PECASE is the highest honor given by the United States government to scientists and engineers beginning their research careers. Nominated for the PECASE by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Humphreys is also a recipient of is a recipient of the UT Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award (2012), the NSF CAREER Award (2015) and the Institute of Navigation Thurlow Award (2015).

 

Read more on the ASE website. Congratulations, Dr. Humphreys!

 

During Brexit negotiations, the EU said the UK cannot retain full access to its Galileo satellite program after Brexit. In November, the UK government officially announced it would be pulling out of the system to concentrate on scoping an alternative system.

 

"Going it alone" could permit the UK to design a system built to the specifications of just one country without needing to meet the requirements imposed by all 28 EU member states. Starting your own global system “is not something you decide to give a shot to see how it goes. It’s a perpetual commitment,” Dr. Humphreys said. “In the US, it costs up to a billion dollars just to maintain our system every year.”

 

The UK Space Agency, now tendering a series of key contracts, has been given £92 million to conduct a feasibility study. The government expects it will take 18 months for this initial assessment. While opinions vary on the timetable for arriving at a fully-fledged system, Dr. Humphreys suggests that “if the UK had a clear mission and the funding, they could field a system in five years.”

 

Read the full article featuring Dr. Humphreys.

A yearlong study by security experts with the Washington-based think tank C4ADS conducted by identified a pattern in which GPS devices near Putin and his entourage suddenly gave incorrect readings. The researchers also identified five buildings associated with the Kremlin that appeared to employ the technique on a rolling basis. The researchers theorize that one reason "spoofing" is deployed is to protect Putin and other Russian officials from attacks or surveillance by drones that rely on GPS.

 

 

However, there's a drawback to creating a GPS bubble around a world leader, said Todd Humphreys, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who was involved with the study. It also makes it easier to keep track of Putin. "What's ironic is if you look at these patterns, and if you coordinate it with the movements of the leader of Russia, it appears you have a Putin detector," Humphreys said. In other words, if you detect spoofing, there's a good chance Putin may be nearby. 

 

Read the full articles featuring Dr. Humphreys on CBS News and Foreign Policy. In addition, check out this segment from the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and an interactive version of the report, "Above Us Only Stars."

Drones are increasingly becoming a security hazard in many ways. These include the weaponization of drones, targeting of commercial flights, and even attacks on heads of state. Current countermeasures include jamming the signal between the drone and the user, or even shooting the drone, but these have their own limitations and legal problems.

 

“[One] could quite easily modify these drones so that they go into an autonomous mode after some point, and carry out their mission without any regard for the command coming from the ground,” Dr. Humphreys says. “If that’s the case, then you can’t simply ward off these drones by jamming.”

 

Perhaps new legislation will help improve these defensive measures.

 

Read the full article featuring Dr. Humphreys.

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