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"Spoof Proof" -- The Discovery Files

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A new study describes a computer algorithm that mitigates the effects of "spoof" GPS attacks malicious GPS signals that provide the wrong time or location -- on electrical grids and other GPS-reliant technologies. Researchers believe this new algorithm has the potential to help cybersecurity professionals to better detect and prevent cyberattacks in real time by recognizing and countering the false signals when they occur.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Grid lock.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: GPS navigation voice) "You're going the wrong way -- re-routing. Make a U-turn. Bob, what were you thinking?" GPS. It's not just to help us find a new restaurant or navigate a road trip. Cell towers, banks, industry, the military, driverless cars, and the entire U.S. power grid rely heavily on GPS. As dependable as it is, researchers tell us GPS is also vulnerable to attack. Disrupting systems that rely on GPS is a cyberthreat that's very real.

The ability to "spoof" a GPS signal by pretending to be one to provide the wrong time or location could cause everything from minor inconvenience to major chaos in crucial infrastructure systems. Again, I'm thinking, power grid. And so is a team from the University of Texas at San Antonio who devised an algorithm that can I.D. false GPS signals from the actual ones, and in real time counter such an attack.

The team focused primarily on protecting the power grid, but their algorithm can be applied to cell phones or computers as easily as a new app. They hope to make it available soon in app stores for iPhone and Android users and for computers.

Protecting our "guiding source" -- by making it "spoof-proof."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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