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US government probing security risks of mobile devices using Russian or Chinese satellites


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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is investigating the potential risks posed by Russian and Chinese satellite systems that are used by some US mobile devices.

There are concerns that some satellites operated by Russia and China could be siphoning Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data.

The FCC rules state that only approved satellite systems can process GPS data, with the only approved satellites being the existing US constellations, and the European Galileo GNSS.

Potential for Russian “jamming and spoofing”

Chair of the House Select China Committee, Representative Mike Gallagher, said in a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel that, “Current events in Eastern Europe (including significant Russian jamming and spoofing of GNSS signals) call into question the wisdom of accepting this workaround and suggest it is critical that the FCC enforce its rules against using unauthorized signals from foreign satellites.”

Satellite constellations belonging to the People's Republic of China ‘BeiDou’ and Russian ‘GLONASS’ systems can be used by some US mobile phones to receive and process GNSS signals.

"Many devices in the United States are already operating with foreign signals," Rosenworcel said in 2018, after pointing out that US phones can send GNSS signals to the satellites of foreign countries. 

Among the handset manufacturers contacted by the FCC are Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, Apple, Google, and others that make up around 90% of the US mobile phone industry.

Speaking on the FCC investigation, a spokesperson said, “There is no established record of what security threats, if any, these signals carry and whether the manufacturers of handheld devices are processing these signals in violation of the Commission’s rules.”

The US has been taking steps to increase the domestic production of semiconductors as part of the CHIPS act. There are serious and credible concerns that manufacturing chips for US devices in Taiwan could subject them to Chinese espionage and sabotage.

The CHIPS act has set aside $53 billion to invest in domestic manufacturing using the existing expertise and infrastructure of companies such as Intel, Samsung, Micron, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Via Reuters

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