Geoscience Australia works to secure positioning infrastructure from hackers

Seeks input on cyber security strategy to protect better-than-GPS ‘SBAS’ project

Geoscience Australia has begun a formal process seeking information that will aid its development of a cyber security strategy to protect a new ultra-precise positioning system.

The federal government in late 2016 pledged $12 million for a Satellite Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) testbed project to deliver better positioning capabilities for Australian industry. SBAS can be used to dramatically enhance the accuracy of positioning provided by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals (such as GPS). 

In 2017, Geoscience Australia launched an SBAS trial, in partnership with Land Information New Zealand GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin, of  Satellite Based.

The most recent federal budget included $224.9 million over four years for satellite-based positioning initiatives.

That included $160.9 million over four years from 2018-19, as well as $39.2 million in ongoing funding from 2022-23, for the development of an SBAS to deliver positioning accuracy of 10cm across Australia. An additional $64 million over four years, and $11.7 million a year from 2022-2023, will help deliver 3-5cm accuracy in parts of Australia that have mobile phone coverage.

Geoscience Australia has been examining the potential impact of SBAS across 10 sectors: Agriculture, aviation, construction, maritime, mining, rail, road, spatial, and utilities, as well as the consumer sector.

Most recently, the agency partnered with UNSW on an SBAS trial on NSW and Victorian construction sites. Five companies participated in the trials

“This was the first time the new generation positioning technology has been used in construction and we expect uptake to really take off once the test-phase is complete,” UNSW Professor Chris Rizos said last year in an SBAS update released by Geoscience Australia.

“The technology used is a lot like that worn by sports stars on the field - it's worn on workers' hard hats or arm-bands and also put on the machinery.

“This information is then fed to the machine and a control room, where an alarm goes off if machinery like excavators or even people are too close to proximity sensors at geo-fenced exclusion areas - likewise, it can tell you when a person is too close to machinery.”

This week Geoscience Australia launched a ‘request for information’ (RFI) process focused on securing an SBAS.

“The SBAS architecture may include communications and uplink stations, which may be vulnerable to malicious cyber-attacks,” a document released by the agency said.

“GA is seeking a cyber-security strategy that will provide information and implementation advice on how to secure our specific SBAS ground infrastructure and processing facilities.”

Geoscience Australia said it is seeking to identify “any existing and forecasted cybersecurity risks and challenges” with the proposed SBAS project, across the expected 30 to 40 ranging and integrity monitoring stations (RIMS), uplink processing facilities, and a mooted central processing facility.