Going old school to tackle cyber attacks on ship navigation

This article is more than 12 months old

LONDON The risk of cyber attacks targeting ships' satellite navigation is pushing nations to delve back in time and develop back-up systems with roots in World War II radio technology.

Ships use GPS (Global Positioning System) and similar devices that rely on sending and receiving satellite signals, which are vulnerable to jamming by hackers.

About 90 per cent of world trade is transported by sea, and the stakes are high in increasingly crowded shipping lanes.

Unlike aircraft, ships lack a back-up navigation system, and if their GPS ceases to function, they risk running aground or colliding with other vessels.


South Korea is developing an alternative system using an earth-based navigation technology known as eLoran, while the US is planning to follow suit. Britain and Russia have also explored adopting versions of the technology, which works on radio signals.

Last year, South Korea said hundreds of fishing vessels had returned early to port after their GPS signals were jammed by hackers from North Korea, which denied responsibility.

In June, a ship in the Black Sea reported to the US Coast Guard Navigation Centre that its GPS system had been disrupted and that over 20 ships in the same area had been similarly affected.

The eLoran push is being led by governments which see it as a means of protecting their national security.

Significant investments will be needed to build a network of transmitter stations to give signal coverage or to upgrade existing ones dating back decades when radio navigation was standard.

Developers of eLoran said it is difficult to jam as the average signal is an estimated 1.3 million times stronger than a GPS signal. To do so will require a powerful transmitter, large antenna and lots of power, which will be easy to detect, they added.

Last month, the US passed a Bill with provisions for its Secretary of Transportation to establish an eLoran system. - REUTERS

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