July 10, 2006

Galileo (EuroGPS) cracked

Darren points to a development reminiscent of satellite TV: the codes to protect the European Galileo satellite's positioning signals have been cracked by a team from Cornell University in USA. Full story below:

Cracking the secret codes of Europe's Galileo satellite

Members of Cornell's Global Positioning System (GPS) Laboratory have cracked the so-called pseudo random number (PRN) codes of Europe's first global navigation satellite, despite efforts to keep the codes secret. That means free access for consumers who use navigation devices -- including handheld receivers and systems installed in vehicles -- that need PRNs to listen to satellites.

The codes and the methods used to extract them were published in the June issue of GPS World.

The navigational satellite, GIOVE-A (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element-A), is a prototype for 30 satellites that by 2010 will compose Galileo, a $4 billion joint venture of the European Union, European Space Agency and private investors. Galileo is Europe's answer to the United States' GPS.

Because GPS satellites, which were put into orbit by the Department of Defense, are funded by U.S. taxpayers, the signal is free -- consumers need only purchase a receiver. Galileo, on the other hand, must make money to reimburse its investors -- presumably by charging a fee for PRN codes. Because Galileo and GPS will share frequency bandwidths, Europe and the United States signed an agreement whereby some of Galileo's PRN codes must be "open source." Nevertheless, after broadcasting its first signals on Jan. 12, 2006, none of GIOVE-A's codes had been made public.

In late January, Mark Psiaki, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell and co-leader of Cornell's GPS Laboratory, requested the codes from Martin Unwin at Surrey Space Technologies Ltd., one of three privileged groups in the world with the PRN codes.

"In a very polite way, he said, 'Sorry, goodbye,'" recalled Psiaki. Next Psiaki contacted Oliver Montenbruck, a friend and colleague in Germany, and discovered that he also wanted the codes. "Even Europeans were being frustrated," said Psiaki. "Then it dawned on me: Maybe we can pull these things off the air, just with an antenna and lots of signal processing."

Within one week Psiaki's team developed a basic algorithm to extract the codes. Two weeks later they had their first signal from the satellite, but were thrown off track because the signal's repeat rate was twice that expected. By mid-March they derived their first estimates of the code, and -- with clever detective work and an important tip from Montenbruck -- published final versions on their Web site (http://gps.ece.cornell.edu/galileo) on April 1. The next day, NovAtel Inc., a Canadian-based major manufacturer of GPS receivers, downloaded the codes from the Web site and within 20 minutes began tracking GIOVE-A for the first time.

Galileo eventually published PRN codes in mid-April, but they weren't the codes currently used by the GIOVE-A satellite. Furthermore, the same publication labeled the open source codes as intellectual property, claiming a license is required for any commercial receiver. "That caught my eye right away," said Psiaki. "Apparently they were trying to make money on the open source code."

Afraid that cracking the code might have been copyright infringement, Psiaki's group consulted with Cornell's university counsel. "We were told that cracking the encryption of creative content, like music or a movie, is illegal, but the encryption used by a navigation signal is fair game," said Psiaki. The upshot: The Europeans cannot copyright basic data about the physical world, even if the data are coming from a satellite that they built.

"Imagine someone builds a lighthouse," argued Psiaki. "And I've gone by and see how often the light flashes and measured where the coordinates are. Can the owner charge me a licensing fee for looking at the light? No. How is looking at the Galileo satellite any different?"

Adam pointed to more here and slashdot.

Posted by iang at July 10, 2006 05:26 AM | TrackBack

Trespassing, almost if you take my signal and use it improperly or actively promote its improper use you get sued. Now the only answer is how deep are the pockets of Cornell University. Imagine if you will the example the NSA will make of Cornell's published works and theft of intellectual property. The Galileo people will get a lawyer and bring a case against Cornell and win big bucks claiming damages. Mark Psiaki needs to obtain the services of a lawyer because the university he works for will be seeking damages from his estate. Cornell will become the object of a government sponsored investigation and as an active promoter of the misuse of commercial property they will loose all their government funding.

Posted by: som one at July 10, 2006 05:44 AM

Cornell's Attorney should have gone to a better law school and researched the lack of precedence in the property of encrypted transmissions and the improper use of the transmission. The breaking of the code was not the intended use, and the publishing expands upon the theft. Bad faith is bad faith and the implied fiduciary relationship of an academic institution has been violated. Commercially intended use by the creator of the system is a contract and precludes usage by academic institutions from publishing private findings that damage the properties value and its intended use. If Cornell has a problem with that tell them to stop joining in class action suits against corporations they own stock in. So Cornell is acting as if they can pick and choose the contracts they agree with and choose to violate. Th bad faith and the lack of prudence in the legal opinion warrants the attorney being barred from practice. Totally unsound advice.

Posted by: no one at July 10, 2006 05:52 AM

According to Paul Virilio, "Thus, for the US, GPS are a form of sovereignty! It is hardly surprising, then, that the EU has proposed its own GPS in order to be able to localise and to compete with the American GPS. As I have said before, sovereignty no longer resides in the territory itself, but in the control of the territory"

From an interview here ... 18-Oct-2000 http://cryptome.sabotage.org/virilio-rma.htm

I think that the story has philosophical implications of the type described by Virilio.

Posted by: darren at July 10, 2006 06:20 AM

FWIW, I think the Cornell team will get away with it but only because it is a prototype. If it had been the real thing then Galileo might have been forced to make it a test case. And Galileo likely would have won. As it is, I'd guess they will instead go for a quiet settlement which implies that Cornell agreed not to do it again, when the real one is installed.

Actually, this puts the Galileo team in a good position, with good use of crypto. It follows one of my emerging principles: "write one to throw away, you probably will anyway." Now they've got a solid lesson in what it's worth, at a very opportune time. You probably couldn't pay for that sort of help.

Posted by: Iang at July 10, 2006 03:00 PM
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