A software update aimed at preventing cyberattacks was partly to blame for a near weeklong blackout of the bloc’s satellite navigation system Galileo, officials told the European Parliament’s industry committee Tuesday.
With an independent inquiry being set up to investigate the incident, Carlo des Dorides, the boss of the Prague-based Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency, told MEPs that the problem originated with the timing systems at one of Galileo’s ground control stations.
However, a security software update at another station in Germany meant that the second facility could not provide a backup — ultimately preventing the navigation system from providing full service, des Dorides said.
“We know cyberattacks exist and we need to make sure software is up to date,” Pierre Delsaux, a deputy director general at the European Commission’s internal market department, told MEPs. “But we need to think how to do it so it doesn’t create this weakness in the system.”
The first station, at Fucino near Rome, encountered problems with its time reference system — crucial to calculating an accurate location from data beaming down from the 22 satellites currently in orbit — MEPs were told.
While both issues have been fixed, Delsaux said he could not guarantee 100 percent that there would be no further problems.
Officials were keen to emphasize that there was no disruption to services during the outage, with devices using the signal able to rely instead on the Global Positioning System operated by the United States.
The Galileo constellation, in which the EU has invested €10 billion to create a superior alternative to GPS, is still under development. “To some extent, having such an incident during such a phase is unfortunately part of the process,” Delsaux told lawmakers.
He said it is important not to forget that Galileo was already a “success,” and that it took the U.S. and Russia two decades to develop their own versions.
“I’m not saying it’s a nice situation,” he said. “But it’s also important that for most citizens it was not perceived that Galileo was not there.”
The panel planned by the Commission to investigate should be finalized this month, and the inquiry completed in the fall, MEPs were told. Officials said they would debrief MEPs on the findings behind closed doors.