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President Obama raises infrastructure needs during 2013 State of the Union address on February 13. White House photo (Click image to enlarge.)

White House Moves to Harden Infrastructure against GPS Disruption

GPS a "cross-sector dependency"

May 13, 2013

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System engineers across the country may soon be planning, in some cases perhaps for the first time, what they would do if they could not use the GPS service.

The effort is part of an expanded White House initiative to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. Alhough infrastructure protection programs have been under way for some time, they did not necessarily address GPS vulnerabilities explicitly.

An assessment of GPS-related risks launched in 2010, which has yet to be released to the public, looked at how disruptions to the GPS signal would affect just five key sectors: banking and finance, communications, emergency services, energy, and transportation systems. The LightSquared-prompted debate over the use of frequencies in 2012, however, made clear how dependent industry has become on GPS — especially for accurate timing.

The new, more expansive analysis of infrastructure protection will begin hardening 16 essential sectors such as energy and communications against risks that include losing — or losing trust in — the GPS signal. [See a complete list of the critical sectors at the end of this article].

Last week, the subject of GPS’s role in the national critical infrastructure preoccupied members of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board were told Wednesday. They learned that the first phase of the expanded analysis will focus on those areas viewed as most dependent on GPS: communications, transportation, and information technology.

The work, which is being spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was launched as part of two new dictates released in February by the White House.

The first was Presidential Policy Directive 21 titled "Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience" released on February 12 in advance of Presifdent Obama's State of the Union address in which he emphasized the need to update an aging infrastructure. The other was Executive Order 13636 published in the Federal Register on February 19, that lays out tasks and responsibilities for protecting the nation's critical infrastructure and improving cybersecurity.

GPS is not considered critical infrastructure itself — at least not yet. The DHS initiative now defines GPS as being a “cross sector dependency” — that is, something essential to many, if not all, sectors. As such, updates to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan or NIPP will specifically include positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) capabilities for which GPS is a leading — if not the leading — technology, said Bob Crane, who is spearheading the effort to incorporate PNT into sector protection efforts.

Implementation of the NIPP is being supported by more than half a dozen government, industry, and combined coordinating councils that address the needs of government across all jurisdictions, plus sector and cross-sector needs.

The National Coordination Office (NCO) for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing is providing support for DHS’s endeavors in the form of a “scoping group to define the problem and outline a plan of action,” NCO Director Jan Brecht-Clark told the Advisory Board.

At the direction of the GPS Executive Steering Group, which is officially co-chaired by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, the NCO also created a second group to monitor progress and develop suggestions for alternatives to GPS service in case of a problem.

The sense that GPS could be vulnerable is apparently spreading, said Brad Parkinson of Stanford University, who co-chairs the advisory board.

“The alarming thing is that there are some people, apparently within the federal government, who are talking about GPS in ways that I don't think are enlightened or constructive,” Parkinson told the board. “A senior official last week expressed shock because he had encountered a perception that GPS is so vulnerable it had to be abandoned and replaced — which is a pretty extreme view.”

Parkinson suggested that board members take on the task of assessing the vulnerability of GPS and offering suggestions on actions that should be taken to assure that GPS is available for truthfully determining position. “You have to be able to receive the signal, and it has to be a valid signal,” he said.

The board discussed the idea but remained unresolved as it weighed how to approach and effectively report on such a broad subject.

One question that was discussed is whether or not PNT could itself be declared a critical sector. The idea had been discussed within the Executive Steering Group, Brecht-Clark said, but that approach was set aside because GPS “actually permeates all of (the sectors) and needs to be raised across all of them.”

Timing of the DHS initiative was also an issue and the window of opportunity to get PNT established as a separate critical infrastructure had likely closed, the board was told during discussions.

That does not mean the issue could not be reopened, Brecht-Clark suggested.

“I also like to think that by having it as a cross dependency across all of [the critical sectors] and getting stuff going now — where we’ve got phases outlined, with DHS support, to reach all of those sectors — that by the time all of the sectors are addressed perhaps there will be even more evidence . . . to initiate action for a (GPS-specific critical) sector,” she said.

The 16 critical sectors and agencies coordinating sector efforts:

Chemical
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Commercial Facilities
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Communications
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Critical Manufacturing
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Dams
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Defense Industrial Base
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Defense

Emergency Services
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Energy
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Energy

Financial Services
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of the Treasury

Food and Agriculture
Co-Sector-Specific Agencies: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services

Government Facilities
Co-Sector-Specific Agencies: Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration

Healthcare and Public Health
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Health and Human Services

Information Technology
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste
Sector-Specific Agency: Department of Homeland Security

Transportation Systems
Co-Sector-Specific Agencies: Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation

Water and Wastewater Systems
Sector-Specific Agency: Environmental Protection Agency

Copyright © 2013 Gibbons Media & Research LLC, all rights reserved.

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