Airlines navigation systems and electric grids are vulnerable to GPS Y2K bug


Information Security experts say that a computer calendar error similar to Y2K can bring down the GPS systems assisting the airlines and power grids on/after April 6th this year.

Speaking at the RSA 2019 Security Conference being hosted at San Francisco, a security expert said that a Y2K error code meant for legacy GPS systems can push the navigational systems of airlines and electric grids into jeopardy in less than a month’s time.

“Computer calendars of legacy GPS devices will fail in older systems as they are 100% chances that they will go back to zero by the said date”, said Bill Malik, VP of Trend Micro. The Taiwan based multinational Cyber Security Company said that he would not fly on that day due to obvious reasons and will decide after seeing the developments on/after April 6th, 2019.

Here are the technical reasons for such fallout

Global Positioning Systems are shortly known as GPS work on date and time which is based on the counting of weeks, and second in a week to track down satellite positions. So, the irony is that these devices will count up to 1024 weeks and then will reset themselves to Zero again as there is a limit to this GPS calculations.

Historically speaking, the 1st ever GPS started at 00:00:00 UTC on January 6th, 1980- Sunday. Since then the week numbers rolled over and over again from 1023 to 0 on Aug 21st, 1999- Saturday at 23:59:47 UTC and is said to happen the same on April 6th this year i.e. after 19.7 years. Experts say that the problem will happen only to those GPS based systems which get confused by the rollover due to software errors.

Note 1- As the rollover is occurring for the second time; many of those who work with GPS systems are aware of the vulnerabilities and so will take precautions in advance. And some new age GPS devices used for navigational purposes have the ability to smartly overtake the leap without causing disturbances to the users.

Note 2- Financial companies, maritime businesses, power generation companies, Telecommunication systems, emergency services, and industrial control systems might get affected by the Y2K bug glitch.

Note 3- FalTech GPS, a Britain based company said that some legacy equipment might not be able to cope up with this adjustment. But the company says that all its latest product produce can smartly overcome this problem with ease and so, only old ships and aircrafts manufactured before 2005 might get affected. Mobile services will remain unaffected.

Note 4- The US Government went a step ahead by warning all manufacturers and private technology firms in April 2018 through a memorandum titled “Upcoming Global Positioning System Week Number Rollover Event”.

Naveen Goud is a writer at Cybersecurity Insiders covering topics such as Mergers & Acquisitions, Startups, Cyber Attacks, Cloud Security and Mobile Security

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