(WSPA) – Researchers at Clemson University are working on a project that could some day keep key infrastructure we depend on safe from a certain type of cyber attack.
It has to do with vulnerabilities in GPS and digital time-keeping.
Clemson’s project has the backing of a $1million grant.
“If we cannot provide accurate time then the consequences would be catastrophic,” said Dr. Yongqiang Wang.
He is leading research at Clemson on how to prevent hackers from manipulating time on our digital networks and devices.
Graduate student Mauz Ahmad explains right now that type of cyber attack is possible with a device like this $300 dollar software defined radio.
“Once this is deployed in an open environment, the signal coming from here is much stronger than the signal coming from outer space from a satellite. So it would always log onto the stronger signs and completely overshadow the authentic signals,” Ahmad said.
Why is that alarming?
For one, it can roll back time to gain digital access through old login information.
Two, an attack like that could mess with your GPS, making your phone think you’re in one spot, when really you’re miles away.
GPS, after all, is based on satellite signals that are all linked to, you guessed it, time.
And think of the consequences for ships at sea… Or trains in cities that depend on accurate location coordination.
Wang is quick to point out the U.S. military has its own secret code to verify GPS signals. His research is aimed at helping private industry, like our electric grid.
“They are pretty vulnerable,” he said. “So we wanted to come up with some solutions to make sure that the time you get is reliable.”
The research only just began, but by the end of the three-year project the team hopes to be well on its way to providing a service that anyone can use to verify that GPS signals are accurate.