Very precisely lost – GPS jamming


Digital security

The technology is both widely available and well-developed, so it’s also poised to proliferate — especially in the hands of those seeking care.

Very precisely lost – GPS jamming

Who would be to blame if your plane were to fly into a war zone?

If GPS is jammed, machines could confidently veer off course to strange and dangerous places, potentially escalating already growing tensions in geopolitical hotspots. Some signs of that are already emerging from the Middle East, raising the question of who is to blame? More importantly, is it an emerging tool of a proxy war?

A hacked GPS that sends an airliner into a conflict zone where it could be “accidentally” shot down is a real hornet’s nest for attribution and could prove particularly tempting in areas of contested airspace around borders slightly muddy.

All it takes is a strong GPS signal near the onboard receiver of, say, an airliner, and adversaries could send the plane wherever they want. There are also inertial guidance systems, but GPS is still relied upon to encourage others to put themselves in harm’s way.

Fortunately, planes have backups, such as waiting for radar operators to guide them on the intended path, but only if the pilot is paying close attention.

How difficult are GPS jammers to buy or build? It depends on the area you want to block and how far you want to jam. GNSS/GPS signals are very, very weak, so they rely on overly sensitive receiving stations to detect their signals. This means that a relatively small and inexpensive transmitter (around US$1,000), the size of an external hard drive, can jam (approximately) a 500 meter radius.

The technology is widely available and well developed, meaning it is both feasible and scalable. This is due, in part, to the wide distribution standard for GPS technology this allowed developers to quickly spread its popularity to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Jamming a signal is one thing, but simulating GPS signals to throw the receiver off course is a more complex operation. Yet the technology is available and appears poised to proliferate, particularly in the hands of those who wish harm.

Don’t have enough budget to ground a plane? Swarms of autonomous vehicles seems like a juicy land target, as does eliminating swarms of GPS-enabled sensors used to keep tabs on tech gadgets like traffic management in cities, wreaking whatever traffic havoc you desire.

It seems obvious to integrate robust emergency navigation systems into such critical systems, even for public safety, precisely in this eventuality. However, if the rush to market outweighs the rush to safety – which always seems to be the case – we will see more of the same. If the trajectories of rapidly developing technologies provide any kind of reliable guide, markets generally trump security. This means we should expect more shenanigans.

Of course, if a jamming base station continues broadcasting it might attract attention, but keeping a jammer on just long enough to have an effect seems like an obvious measure. Speaking of counterattack, there’s still time to claim your GPS is hacked if your car stops in a shady spot of your choosing, but few people would believe you anyway, and that’s still a tough thing to prove.

Leave a comment