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FCC Investigates Russian and Chinese Satellite Threats to US Mobile Devices

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently looking into the possible dangers presented by satellite systems from Russia and China that some US mobile devices utilize.

Concerns have arisen regarding the potential interception of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data by certain satellites operated by Russia and China.

According to FCC regulations, only authorized satellite systems are permitted to handle GPS data, with the currently authorized satellites being the existing US constellations and the European Galileo GNSS.

Potential for Russian interference through ‘jamming and spoofing’

Chair of the House Select China Committee, Representative Mike Gallagher, expressed in a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel that, “Recent events in Eastern Europe (including substantial Russian interference through jamming and spoofing of GNSS signals) raise doubts about the wisdom of accepting this workaround and underscore the urgency for the FCC to enforce its regulations against the use of unauthorized signals from foreign satellites.”

Satellite arrays owned by the People’s Republic of China ‘BeiDou’ and Russian ‘GLONASS’ systems can be utilized by certain US mobile phones to access and process GNSS signals.

“In the United States, numerous devices are already utilizing foreign signals,” Rosenworcel stated in 2018, highlighting that US phones can transmit GNSS signals to satellites of foreign nations.

The FCC has reached out to handset manufacturers including Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, Apple, Google, and others, which collectively account for approximately 90% of the US mobile phone industry.

Regarding the FCC investigation, a spokesperson commented, “There is currently no established documentation regarding potential security risks associated with these signals and whether handheld device manufacturers are processing them in violation of the Commission’s regulations.”

The US government has been taking measures to enhance domestic semiconductor production as part of the CHIPS act. There are substantial and credible concerns that producing chips for US devices in Taiwan could expose them to espionage and sabotage by China.

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

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