cybersecurity system for UAVs

Cybersecurity System for UAVs in Galicia |GMV and the Galician Innovation Agency of the regional government of Galicia have signed a €1.6 million contract to develop a cutting-edge cybersecurity system capable of detecting radiofrequency signal jamming in the vicinity of the Rozas Airport Research Center (CIAR). The primary objective of this system is to safeguard the satellite-based communication and positioning systems utilized by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ensuring uninterrupted operation within the area surrounding the Rozas airport with the required level of security.

The Rozas Airport Research Center (CIAR) serves as a dedicated testing infrastructure established under the Civil UAVs Initiative, a strategic program initiated by Galicia’s regional government (Xunta de Galicia) to advance the utilization of UAV technologies in civilian applications. Recognized as one of Europe’s pioneering testing centers, CIAR facilitates research, experimentation, and development of unmanned systems, providing essential ground infrastructure and resources for unmanned platform development, as well as associated systems and equipment.

Creation of this unique technological infrastructure, located adjacent to the airport and an industrial park specialized in unmanned aerial vehicles, has brought with it a need to protect the positioning and communication systems used by UAVs against potential cyberattacks.

To do this, the system will monitor the positioning signals sent by the satellites, as well as the signals used for the communication links between the control stations and UAVs.

The rapid increase seen in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been creating significant challenges in the field of security. The need to address these challenges has now taken on major importance, and the Civil UAVs Initiative in Galicia is contributing to this effort. It is focused on public and private uses for these systems, such as those involving response to urgent healthcare situations and other emergencies, sustainable management of forest and marine resources, prevention and suppression of wildfires, biodiversity observation and monitoring, and developing new forms of mobility. The overall purpose of the initiative is to further develop the area surrounding Rozas as an epicenter of aerospace research, development, and innovation (R&D+i), to position Galicia at the forefront of global developments in this area while also creating high-quality jobs.

Satellite navigation and cybersecurity, key elements for the project

Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) are an essential element for operating UAVs, because they allow these aircraft to precisely determine their exact location throughout their entire flight. Since these GNSS services have become widely available, UAVs can now make use of advanced features such as autonomous flight. The new cybersecurity system, which will be developed by GMV and the Galician company Centum research & technology,(2) will protect the CIAR and the GNSS signals used by UAVs against any intentional or unintentional jamming or spoofing.

Jamming is an attack method that can be used against navigation systems, by intentionally degrading the quality of the signals being received from a positioning system. It is done by generating more powerful signals on the same frequency bands used for the satellite signals, to prevent proper acquisition of the real signals by the receiver under attack. The technique known as spoofing, on the other hand, replaces the real positioning signals, so that the aircraft under attack will think that it has a different position, rather than its actual one.

The system being developed in this project led by GMV will also include a cybersecurity solution to protect the frequency bands used for communicating with UAVs. This is essential to prevent any loss of control that could be caused by attacks on the communication link between an unmanned vehicle and the corresponding ground control station.

This cybersecurity system will consist of a network of ground stations and a sensor installed on board the UAVs. The ground stations will continuously monitor the appropriate radiofrequency bands, while the UAV’s onboard sensor will be used for geolocation of any interference sources coming from areas not covered by those ground stations.

Growth potential for unmanned vehicles

There is a rapidly growing market for unmanned aerial vehicles that can provide new services for the public. According to a report issued by the European Parliament, Europe has become a leader in this field in terms of civilian applications, with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Sweden now operating the largest numbers of UAVs. Current forecasts are predicting ongoing growth for the drone market in Europe, which is expected to generate €10 billion in revenue by 2035 and €15 billion by 2050. The regional government of Galicia now believes that investing in UAV technologies can have a broader impact on public policies and services as a whole, as an area that can contribute to the set of European Union policies defined for the 2021-2027 period: a more connected, more social Europe that supports high‑quality employment, etc. In addition, other areas where the Galician aerospace industry can make significant contributions include the ecological and digital transformations, rural development policies, and the demographic policies needed to address rural depopulation.