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Iridium service cures security flaws in GPS

Steve Rogerson
May 25, 2016

Iridium Communications has introduced an alternative or companion to traditional location-based technologies that gives users access to accurate and resilient position, navigation and timing (PNT) technology that works anywhere on the planet, even indoors.
The Satellite Time & Location (STL) service is ready for use. Due to the architecture of its 66 cross-linked, low-earth orbit satellites, the Virginia-based satellite company’s network has the global coverage and reliability needed to deliver this service.
Since the inception of GPS technology in the late 1970s, it has been recognised as a powerful and critical tool for businesses and consumers worldwide. Unfortunately, with this recognition, the GPS infrastructure has become targeted by those looking to take advantage of its known vulnerabilities for illegal purposes. STL technology can work to verify GPS, Glonass, Galileo and other navigation services, and, if needed, substitute for these services should they become compromised.
It can protect, toughen and augment traditional GPS technology by providing a position or timing source when GPS signals are degraded or unavailable. It can also provide an alternative source of time to check the integrity of a GPS signal. This is essential for any kind of critical infrastructure that depends on GPS as a source of PNT information.
Iridium is working with Satelles, a division of IKare with offices in Virginia and California, as its primary technology partner to deliver this through Iridium’s paging channels, which are able to reach small, low-cost receivers in nearly any environment, even inside buildings. Satelles provides technology and services to companies that are commercialising this capability to protect assets, authenticate users or do other important functions reliant on GPS time and location.
“We are very excited to launch yet another highly innovative solution that only our network can enable, which is now available today,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium. “We think STL can help solve an important and growing problem for governments and businesses, and serve as a platform for continued innovation. With STL, we are introducing a global capability that is already in space, technologically ready for use and is independent of any particular location technology.”
He said the team at Satelles had been able to leverage the network capabilities to create a service that can be integrated into almost any kind of platform, including other Iridium M2M devices, heavy machinery, automobiles and the power grid.
“Once implemented, STL could revolutionise the way the world’s largest, global companies and governments operate and manage cyber security,” said Desch.
The technology has already been productised into a chip set about the size of a postage stamp and can be embedded into devices of all kinds. Due to STL’s signal strength, it can help make GPS systems more difficult to spoof, which has been a growing risk for the current GPS infrastructure. It transmits its signals through Iridium’s satellite constellation to deliver a unique code to each position on the ground that can be independently authenticated, proving that a device is located in a specific place in the world. This enables applications to be location aware, allowing operation or access only if the user is in the location expected.
“We are honoured to have been able to partner with Iridium to bring this technology to market,” said Michael O’Connor, chief executive officer at Satelles. “The robustness and complexity of the network allowed us to create a unique solution that is in high-demand and solves many problems that exist today.”
Greg Gutt, president and chief technology officer of Satelles, added: “Commercial users are now able to use STL to deliver trustworthy timing for critical infrastructure, such as LTE networks, transactional data centres and the power grid. Military and government users can also acquire these commercial off-the-shelf solutions for the Department of Defense and other government applications.”
In addition to enhancing the security and resiliency of GPS, he said STL technology could be embedded into servers anywhere in the world to geo-fence data and applications, providing trusted time and location data as an independent factor for end-point authentication.
To date, STL has been successfully demonstrated across multiple sectors including the military, academia and commercial applications. This technology is available today and will be supported by Iridium’s Next, a next-generation global satellite constellation which is scheduled for completion by late 2017.