GEOG 479
Cyber-Geography in Geospatial Intelligence

Growth of the Information Communication Technology Infrastructure

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Prior to 2005, there was not a great amount of intercontinental information connectivity. Increases in ICT infrastructure have gone unnoticed or been taken for granted in many parts of the world. External as well as internal infrastructure has been added and integrated to work together. GPS technology is available 24/7 to almost anyone, anywhere, providing location information to the user, as well as recording that location information within the infrastructure.

There is no denying the impact of the Global Positioning System (GPS) on our daily lives. Far beyond the compact digital maps many drivers have come to rely on in place of paper road maps, GPS is now a ubiquitous technology integrated into transportation, finance, communications, air traffic control, and emergency response networks, among others. GPS has become an essential utility similar to water, gas, and electrical service. Many enterprises today, both public and private, depend heavily on GPS to synchronize computer networks world-wide. The widespread acceptance of GPS technology in so many non-military areas is a significant accomplishment for a technology originally intended for use only as a weapon system. Like much of the technology developed and used by the US military, it ended up as “dual use,” having both military and civilian applications.

GPS ground control stations are often located at remote installations. The GPS control segment consists of a global network of ground facilities that track the GPS satellites, monitor their transmissions, perform analyses, and send commands and data to the constellation. The current operational control segment includes a master control station, an alternate master control station, 12 command and control antennas, and 16 monitoring sites. The locations of these facilities are shown in the map below. Each station monitors the exact altitude, position, speed, and overall health of the orbiting satellites. These unmanned ground stations also control GPS satellites and continuously update orbital positions and time data received from them.

World map showing locations of the Ground Control segment of the GPSroconsellation
Figure 20. Locations of the Ground Control segment of the GPS constellation.
Credit: GPS.gov.

Most people are unaware of the huge footprint in so many remote locations that is required by the system – it has become regarded as a utility and, for the most part, taken for granted. The system operates 24-7, and can provide worldwide geo-location data to anyone with a receiver. Most smart phones in service today have a GPS receiver installed. All that is required for a 3-4 meter accuracy is a fix from 4 satellites at a time. In many occasions, we may get many more “visible” and hence a greater degree of accuracy. Current plans for upgrades will increase that accuracy to within a meter by the end of 2014-2015.

Satellite Graphic, see caption for full description.
Figure 21. Visible sat = 12. The number of satellites, out of a total of 31, available for processing a location of the globe varies with the positions of the satellites in orbit as they are not geostationary.
Credit: Original Graphic.

Listen to the Experts (Optional Talk)

Todd Humphreys forecasts the near-future of geolocation, when millimeter-accurate GPS "dots" will enable you to find pin-point locations, index-search your physical possessions ... or track people without their knowledge. And the response to the sinister side of this technology may have unintended consequences of its own (15:45).

How to fool a GPS - Todd Humphreys
Click here for transcript of the how to fool a GPS video.

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

[APPLAUSE] 

TODD HUMPHREYS: Something happened in the early morning hours of May 2, 2000 that had a profound effect on the way our society operates. Ironically, hardly anyone noticed at the time. The change was silent, imperceptible unless you knew exactly what to look for. On that morning, US President Bill Clinton ordered that a special switch be thrown in the orbiting satellites of the global positioning system. Instantaneously, every civilian GPS receiver around the globe went from errors the size of a football field to errors the size of a small room. 

It's hard to overstate the effect that this change in accuracy has had on us. Before the switch was thrown, we didn't have in-car navigation systems giving turn by turn directions because back then, GPS couldn't tell you what block you were on, let alone what street. For geolocation, accuracy matters. 

And things have only improved over the last 10 years with more base stations, more ground stations, better receivers, and better algorithms. GPS can now not only tell you what street you're on, but what part of the street. This level of accuracy has unleashed a firestorm of innovation. In fact, many of you navigated here today with the help of your TomTom or your smartphone. Paper maps are becoming obsolete. 

But we now stand on the verge of another revolution in geolocation accuracy. What if I told you that the two-meter positioning that our current cell phones and our TomToms give us is pathetic compared to what we could be getting? For some time now, it's been known that if you pay attention to the carrier phase of the GPS signal and if you have an internet connection, then you can go from meter level to centimeter level, even millimeter-level positioning. 

So why don't we have this capability on our phones? Only, I believe, for a lack of imagination. Manufacturers haven't built this carrier phase technique into their cheap GPS chips because they're not sure what the general public would do with geolocation so accurate that you could pinpoint the wrinkles in the palm of your hand. But you, and I, and other innovators, we can see the potential in this next leap in accuracy. Imagine, for example, an augmented reality app that overlays a virtual world to millimeter-level precision on top of the physical world. I could build for you a structure up here in 3D, millimeter accurate that only you could see or my friends at home. 

So this level of positioning, this is what we're looking for. And I believe that-- within the next few years, I predict-- that this kind of hyperprecise carrier phase-based positioning will become cheap and ubiquitous, and the consequences will be fantastic. The holy grail, of course, is the GPS dot. Do you remember the movie The Da Vinci Code? Here's professor Langdon examining a GPS dot, which his accomplice tells him is a tracking device accurate within two feet anywhere on the globe. 

But we know that in the world of nonfiction, the GPS dot is impossible. For one thing, GPS doesn't work indoors. And for another, they don't make devices quite this small, especially when those devices have to relay their measurements back over a network. Well, these objections were perfectly reasonable a few years ago, but things have changed. There's been a strong trend toward miniaturization, better sensitivity, so much so that a few years ago a GPS tracking device looked like this clunky box to the left of the keys. 

Compare that with the device released just months ago that's now packaged into something the size of a key fob. And if you take a look at the state of the art for a complete GPS receiver, which is only a centimeter on a side and more sensitive than ever, you realize that the GPS dot will soon move from fiction to nonfiction. Imagine what we could do with a world full of GPS dots. It's not just that you'll never lose your wallet or your keys anymore, or your child when you're at Disneyland, you'll buy GPS dots in bulk. And you'll stick them on everything you own worth more than a few tens of dollars. 

I couldn't find my shoes one recent morning. And as usual, I had to ask my wife if she had seen them. But I shouldn't have to bother my wife with that kind of triviality. I should be able to ask my house where my shoes are. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Those of you who have made the switch to Gmail, remember how refreshing it was to go from organizing all of your email to simply searching it? The GPS dot will do the same for our possessions. Now of course, there is a flip side to the GPS dot. 

I was in my office some months back and got a telephone call. The woman on the other end of the line-- we'll call her Carol-- was panicked. Apparently an ex-boyfriend of Carol's from California had found her in Texas and was following her around. So you might ask at this point why she's calling you. Well, so did I. 

But it turned out there was a technical twist to Carol's case. Every time her ex-boyfriend would show up, at the most improbable times in the most improbable locations, he was carrying an open laptop. And over time, Carol realized that he had planted a GPS tracking device on her car. So she was calling me for help to disable it. 

Well, you should go to a good mechanic and have him look at your car, I said. I already have, she told me. He didn't see anything obvious, and he said he'd have to take the car apart piece by piece. Well, then you better go to the police, I said. I already have, she replied. They're not sure this rises to the level of harassment. And they're not set up technically to find the device. 

OK, what about the FBI? I've talked to them too. And same story. We then talked about her coming to my lab and us performing a radio sweep of her car, but I wasn't even sure that would work, given that some of these devices are configured to only transmit when they're inside safe zones or when the car is moving. 

So there we were. Carol isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to find herself in this kind of fearsome environment, worrisome situation caused by GPS tracking. In fact, as I looked into her case I discovered, to my surprise, that it's not clearly illegal for you or me to put a tracking device on someone else's car. The Supreme Court ruled last month that a policeman has to get a warrant if he wants to do prolonged tracking, but the law isn't clear about civilians doing this to one another. So it's not just Big Brother we have to worry about, but Big Neighbor. 

[LAUGHTER] 

There is one alternative that Carol could have taken, very effective. It's called the Wave Bubble. It's an open source GPS jammer developed by Limor Fried, a graduate student at MIT. And Limor calls it a tool for reclaiming our personal space. With a flip of the switch, you create a bubble around you within which GPS signals can't reside. They get drowned out by the bubble. 

And Limor designed this in part because like Carol, she felt threatened by GPS tracking. When she posted her design to the web-- and if you don't have time to build your own, you can buy one. Chinese manufacturers now sell thousands of nearly identical devices on the internet. 

So you might be thinking, the Wave Bubble sounds great. I should have one. Might come in handy if somebody ever puts a tracking device on my car. But you should be aware that its use is very much illegal in the United States. And why is that? Well, because it's not a bubble at all. It's jamming signals, don't stop at the edge of your personal space or at the edge of your car. They go on to jam innocent GPS receivers for miles around you. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Now if you're Carol or Limor, or someone who feels threatened by GPS tracking, it might not feel wrong to turn on a Wave Bubble. But in fact, the results can be disastrous. Imagine, for example, you're the captain of a cruise ship trying to make your way through a thick fog, and some passenger in the back turns on a Wave Bubble. All of a sudden your GPS readout goes blank. And now it's just you, and the fog, and whatever you can pull off the radar system if you remember how to work it. 

In fact, they don't update or upkeep lighthouses anymore. And LORAN, the only backup to GPS, was discontinued last year. Our modern society has a special relationship with GPS. We're almost blindly reliant on it. It's built deeply into our systems and infrastructure. Some call it the invisible utility. 

So turning on a Wave Bubble might not just cause inconvenience. It might be deadly. But as it turns out, for purposes of protecting your privacy at the expense of general GPS reliability, there's something even more potent and more subversive than a Wave Bubble. And that is a GPS spoofer. 

The idea behind the GPS spoofer is simple. Instead of jamming the GPS signals, you fake them. You imitate them. And if you do it right, the device you're attacking doesn't even know it's being spoofed. So let me show you how this works. 

In any GPS receiver, there's a peak inside that corresponds to the authentic signals. These three red dots represent the tracking points that try to keep themselves centered on that peak. But if you send in a fake GPS signal, another peak pops up. And if you can get these two peaks perfectly aligned, the tracking points can't tell the difference, and they get hijacked by the stronger counterfeit signal, with the authentic peak getting forced off. 

At this point, the game is over. The fake signals now completely control this GPS receiver. So is this really possible? Can someone really manipulate the timing and positioning of a GPS receiver just like that with a spoofer? Well, the short answer is, yes. 

The key is that civil GPS signals are completely open. They have no encryption. They have no authentication. They're wide open, vulnerable to a spoofing attack. Even so, up until very recently nobody worried about GPS spoofers. People figured that it would be too complex or too expensive for some hacker to build one. 

But I and a friend of mine from graduate school, we didn't see it that way. We knew it wasn't going to be so hard. And we wanted to be the first to build one so we could get out in front of the problem and help protect against GPS spoofing. 

I remember vividly the week it all came together. We built it at my home, which means that I got a little extra help from my three-year-old son, Ramon. Here's Ramon looking for a little attention from dad that week. 

[LAUGHTER] 

At first, the spoofer was just a jumble of cables and computers, though we eventually got it packaged into a small box. Now the Dr. Frankenstein moment, when the spoofer finally came alive and I glimpsed its awful potential, came late one night when I tested the spoofer against my iPhone. Let me show you some actual footage from that very first experiment. 

I had come to completely trust this little blue dot and its reassuring blue halo. They seemed to speak to me. They'd say, here you are. Here you are. 

[LAUGHTER] 

And you can trust us. So something felt very wrong about the world. It was a sense almost of betrayal. When this little blue dot started at my house and went running off toward the north, leaving me behind, I wasn't moving. 

What I then saw in this little moving blue dot was the potential for chaos. I saw airplanes and ships veering off course with the captain learning only too late that something was wrong. I saw the GPS derive timing of the New York Stock Exchange being manipulated by hackers. You can scarcely imagine the kind of havoc you could cause if you knew what you were doing with a GPS spoofer. 

There is, though, one redeeming feature of the GPS spoofer. It's the ultimate weapon against an invasion of GPS dots. Imagine, for example, you're being tracked. Well, you can play the tracker for a fool, pretending to be at work when you're really on vacation. Or if you're Carol, you could lure your ex-boyfriend into some empty parking lot where the police are waiting for him. 

So I'm fascinated by this conflict, a looming conflict between privacy on the one hand and the need for a clean radio spectrum on the other. We simply cannot tolerate GPS jammers and spoofers. And yet, given the lack of effective legal means for protecting our privacy from the GPS dot, can you really blame people for wanting to turn them on, for wanting to use them? 

I hold out hope that we'll be able to reconcile this conflict with some yet uninvented technology. But meanwhile, grab some popcorn because things are going to get interesting. Within the next few years, many of you will be the proud owner of a GPS dot. Maybe you'll have a whole bag full of them. You'll never lose track of your things again. 

The GPS dot will fundamentally reorder your life, but will you be able to resist the temptation to track your fellow man? Or will you be able to resist the temptation to turn on a GPS spoofer or a Wave Bubble to protect your own privacy? So as usual, what we see just beyond the horizon is full of promise and peril. It'll be fascinating to see how this all turns out. Thanks. 

[APPLAUSE] 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

Credit: TED-ed

According to Indo-African Business, April 24, 2013,”Over the last decade, the African region has been the world's fastest growing region in terms of mobile penetration. While fixed line penetration has stagnated at 4% in Africa, mobile has grown at an astonishing rate to 45% with North Africa leading at 73%. However same is not true for broadband, and it lags behind considerably when compared to other continents due to lack of fixed infrastructure coupled with high costs of service provisioning. Currently the average broadband penetration in Africa is only 1.5% with South Africa leading at approximately about 3%.”

Further, “Owing to coverage restrictions and lack of bandwidth, large parts of the region still witness connectivity delivered via satellites or mobile technology. Lack of bandwidth availability and limited connectivity with rest of the world has arrested the development of Africa and has constrained the continent from achieving its full potential.”

Spatial network mapping can provide a new capability not addressed by current network graphing techniques and software. Spatial network mapping is especially powerful in visualizing longitudinal network trends. Currently, there are over half a billion Africans connected to the global system through cell phones and the Internet. This number will increase with large improvements in intercontinental activity expected in the African region over the coming years. This is due to a myriad of undersea cables that form a thick ring around Africa as shown in Figure 22. Africa’s leading telecommunications service providers, the World Bank, and government organizations have invested to bring much-needed broadband capacity to the continent. Once all the cables are in place, Africa’s total bandwidth will increase from 6 terabytes/second (tbps) to as much as 34 tbps. This connectivity has vastly improved user access to information within the limits of the sitting political regime.

When Internet connectivity was mostly carried on satellites, costs were high. As cables come online, costs are going to come down which will lead to increases in information flow within the region and to distant points. What formerly could be characterized as “Terra Incognita” is changing. Sub-Saharan Africa has benefited most from the undersea cable projects since its major cities are now connected to the rest of the world.

African Underseas Cables (2009-2015)African Undersea Cables planned for 2018

Figure 22. Low-cost, abundant, easily distributed information lowers transaction costs, which affects the nature of institutions and organizations.
2009, 2012, and 2015. Credit: Oxford Internet Institute (OII).

Figure 23, below, shows the continent-wide penetration rate of different ICTs. Notable here is the huge increase in wireless penetration – almost 33% continent wide. This image does not paint a fully accurate picture. While the overall number is correct, the penetration rates in North Africa show a different story when reviewed separately. Too much variation is concealed in the overall continental rate, but becomes apparent when examined more regionally. In the Mahgreb, the rates were almost twice as much as the continental average and increased steadily to over 100% in some places, meaning that some subscribers actually had more than one phone by 2010.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. The core mission of the Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) is to foster international cooperation and solidarity in the delivery of technical assistance and in the creation, development, and improvement of telecommunication/ICT equipment and networks in developing countries. ITU-D is required to discharge the Union's dual responsibility as a United Nations specialized agency and executing agency for implementing projects under the United Nations development system or other funding arrangements, so as to facilitate and enhance telecommunication/ICT development by offering, organizing, and coordinating technical cooperation and assistance activities. ICT data from around the world can be downloaded in Excel format.

Phone subscriptions in Africa (graph) increases year by year

Figure 23. The continent-wide penetration rate of different ICTs. Fixed-line Subscriptions have barely risen (9.2m -11m) from 2000 to 2015, while Mobile subscriptions have risen very significantly (16.5m - 685m) from 2000 - 2015.

While there are areas of almost full penetration, most of Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind the North in terms of development. It is coming, albeit at a slower rate, due, in part, to the remoteness of many areas. The 2010 rate in the Mahgreb, as shown in Figure 24, might be the threshold rate that facilitates change. When everyone can speak, text, etc., with everyone else, a dictator can no longer control the message.

 Cellular Penetration Rates. Adequate description in caption and text.
Figure 24. The rest of Africa compared to the 2010 average rate in the Mahgreb.

While the continent-wide rate was almost 33% in 2008, it was approximately double that in the Mahgreb. By 2010, the penetration rate was over 80% regionally. If the penetration rate can be viewed as a predictor of political unrest, then the period of 2012-2014 might prove very interesting in Sub-Saharan Africa as ICT penetration rates continue to increase.

Mobile Cellular Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in North Africa, see caption
Figure 25. The steady increase in mobile cellular subscriptions in North Africa. Graph shows steady increase in mobile cellular subscriptions in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Saudi Arabia is contrasted here as a reference for other parts of the Middle East.

The chart above shows the steady increase in areas of the Arab world and North Africa in particular. Saudi Arabia is contrasted here as a reference for other parts of the Middle East. The steady growth in the penetration rate has created a climate where anyone can speak to anyone else – and, as a result, provides a possibility for change based on mass communications.