Russia continues to mount an increasing number of attacks on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) -- especially the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) -- to calculate the damage it can inflict on these unprotected systems in case of conflict.

At present, the Russians are hacking non-Russian GNSS on a massive scale in order to confuse thousands of ships and airplanes about their correct locations, according to a study of false GNSS signals by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS). Based in Washington D.C., C4ADS is a think-tank providing data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting on global conflict and transnational security issues.

In the space of a year, Russia has hacked GPS aboard 1,311 civilian ships while a total of 9,883 hacking incidents were reported or detected. Most of the incidents involving ships were recorded in the Crimea, the Black Sea, Russia, and Syria.

"'All critical national infrastructures rely on GNSS to some extent' -- and the Russians have started hacking it,” noted Business Insider

Major non-Russian GNSS systems now operational include GPS, China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, and Europe's Galileo Navigation Satellite System.

Up until a few years ago, Russia used GNSS jamming or spoofing mostly to disguise the location of President Vladimir Putin. C4ADS cited a verified incident in May 2018 when Putin drove a bright orange truck in a convoy of construction vehicles for the opening of the Kerch Bridge from Russia to Crimea.

C4SD said that as Putin drove across the brigde, the satellite navigation systems in more than 24 ships anchored nearby began displaying false information about their locations. Their GPS systems told their captains they were anchored more than 65 kilometers away, on dry land at the Anapa Airport inside Russia.

This was not a random glitch, according to C4ADS. It was a deliberate plan to make it difficult for anyone nearby to track or navigate around Putin. Now, Russian GPS spoofing and jamming efforts have expanded far beyond merely protecting Putin.

Russia has also established a permanent GNSS spoofing zone hiding the location of Putin’s palatial summer home near Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast of Russia. C4ADS said Putin’s multi-million dollar palace is the only private home in Russia that enjoys the same level of airspace protection and GNSS interference as the Kremlin.

Putin threatens war Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Feb. 20. Putin has threatened the U.S. and its NATO allies with nuclear blackmail. Photo: ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images

"Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president,” said C4ADS.

Another think tank, Digital Shadows, said the geographical placement of Russian spoofing incidents closely aligns with places where Vladimir Putin was making overseas and domestic visits. This suggests that “Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president.

“The incidents also align with the locations of Russian military and government resources. Although in some areas the motive was likely to restrict access to or obstruct foreign military.”