GPS Jamming

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Global Positioning System (GPS) is a technology that uses the position of satellites to determine locations on earth. Technology has emerged that interferes with GPS.

GPS can be disrupted by intentional interference in the form of jamming. GPS jamming is the deliberate act of interfering with GPS signals to disrupt the proper functioning of GPS devices.

Causes of GPS Jamming

There are various causes of GPS jamming, ranging from intentional attacks to unintentional interference. Some of the primary causes of GPS jamming are as follows:

Malicious intent

GPS jamming is often used as a tool for sabotage, theft, or terrorism. For instance, criminals may use GPS jammers to prevent tracking of stolen vehicles or goods. Terrorists may use GPS jammers to interfere with the GPS signals of military or civilian aircraft, causing them to deviate from their intended paths.

Testing purposes

GPS jamming is sometimes used for testing the resilience of GPS devices or systems against interference. Such tests are usually conducted in controlled environments and are necessary to improve the reliability and performance of GPS technology.

Unintentional interference

GPS signals can be disrupted by unintentional interference from other electronic devices. For example, faulty electrical equipment, power lines, and radio signals can interfere with GPS signals, resulting in inaccurate positioning or loss of signal altogether.

Impacts of GPS Jamming

GPS jamming can have severe impacts on various sectors, including transportation, military, and emergency services. Some of the primary impacts of GPS jamming are as follows:

Transportation

GPS jamming can affect the accuracy and reliability of navigation systems, leading to accidents and delays. For instance, a driver who relies on GPS navigation may be directed to the wrong location or become lost due to jamming.

Military

GPS jamming can interfere with military operations that rely on GPS for navigation and targeting. In a combat scenario, GPS jamming can prevent military personnel from locating enemy positions or communicating effectively.

Emergency services

GPS jamming can impede emergency services such as ambulance, police, and fire department from reaching their intended destinations on time, leading to potential loss of life and property.

GPS Chaos

New Scientist takes a look at how the proliferation of GPS jammer devices is creating problems. The article by David Hambling calls GPS the “invisible utility” that is used as more than just an aid for navigation.  

GPS jammers have become more readily available for purchase on the Internet and are being used more widely than ever before by those wishing to block GPS signals on their vehicles.  The jammers, if unobstructed, can interfere with GPS signals up to several kilometers away.  

The effectiveness of jammers is in part due to the inherent weakness of GPS signals:

“The problem is that the GPS signal is very weak. It’s like a car headlight 20,000 kilometres away,” says consultant David Last, former president of the UK’s Royal Institute of Navigation. “You can’t boost the signal any further because of the limited power supply on a satellite.”

GPS jammers can be bought over the Internet for as little at $30 and, among the users, are truckers that want to block GPS tracking of their vehicles.  Jammers are also used to block GPS-based road tolls.  In fact, the user of a jammer by a trucker to avoid tolls was responsible for shutting down the GPS-based landing system at nearby Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

It’s not only jammers that are causing problems.  GPS spoofers are also starting to proliferate.  Spoofers are used to manipulate GPS devices into providing a false reading.

References

Board, P. N. T. (2010). Jamming the Global Positioning System–A National Security Threat: Recent Events and Potential CuresNational PNT Advisory Board.

Hu, H., & Wei, N. (2009, December). A study of GPS jamming and anti-jamming. In 2009 2nd international conference on power electronics and intelligent transportation system (PEITS) (Vol. 1, pp. 388-391). IEEE.

Iyidir, B., & Ozkazanc, Y. (2004, April). Jamming of GPS receivers. In Proceedings of the IEEE 12th Signal Processing and Communications Applications Conference, 2004. (pp. 747-750). IEEE.

Pinker, A., & Smith, C. (1999). Vulnerability of the GPS Signal to Jamming. GPS Solutions3(2), 19-27.

This article was originally written on January 7, 2010 and has since been updated.

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