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GPS Jamming and Spoofing: How Real is the Threat to YOUR Business?

Franck Boynton, VP and CTO, NavtechGPS
January 12, 2018

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GPS Jamming and Spoofing Can Happen to YOU!

How real is the potential threat to your business?

GPS jamming and its more insidious cousin, GPS spoofing, continue to cause serious threats to the accuracy of GPS timing, location, and precision, and often businesses remain unaware of the problem or the potential harm until it’s too late.

Jammers work by blocking the reception of GPS L1 (1575.42 MHz) signals on a device. A large number of devices and applications worldwide employ GPS position and timing, which rely on the GPS L1 band. Even though it is illegal to jam the GPS signal, individuals can easily buy jammers online.
Jammers are often used by individuals who don’t want their activities tracked. You may recall the 2013 disruption created by a Newark, New Jersey, delivery driver who didn’t want his boss to know where he was and ended up unintentionally causing harmful interference to the GBAS installation being tested at Newark Liberty Airport. (GBAS is a Ground Based Augmentation System that provides differential corrections and integrity monitoring for civil-aviation safety systems at local airports.)

Spoofing, typically done with GPS simulators or custom-built systems, essentially hacks into a system to trick the GPS receiver into thinking it is at a different time and location. The hack happens slowly as the interference gain starts low and eventually causes the receiver to catch on to a new falsely generated signal, causing the GPS to “lie” to the user.

GPS spoofing is trickier to do than jamming, especially to high quality receivers, as many of those are smart enough to recognize the error and ignore the spoofing signal. However, with lower accuracy GPS systems, like those in cell phones, spoofing can cause problems that may not be recognized until it’s too late. The potential for more serious harm is great.

For example, this past year, Pokémon Go gamers hacked their own game in smartphones so they could capture rare Pokémon characters in far-away locations without leaving their homes. In this instance, the impact was limited internally to the phones of the users who chose to do this to their own Pokémon game. In that case, it was a software hack rather than a physical spoofer.

At a recent ION GNSS meeting, completely unintentional interference from a piece of equipment, resulted in spoofing several smartphones to the point where texting, email, and other operations would not work. Most phones did retain the ability to operate in voice mode, and the damage could be repaired by reinstalling the operating system or restarting the phones once outside of the area, but the inconvenience was considerable. (Details at http://www.insidegnss.com/node/5661). In both these cases, the impact was confined, but the potential for more serious harm is considerable.
With jamming, the signal recovers once the cause is found and addressed; the GPS properly corrects itself in most cases. In spoofing instances, even if the cause is found, the GPS receiver may not correct itself right away. The receiver typically retains the last known position, time, and almanac (location of satellite parameters). This makes it difficult in some cases for the receiver to recover.

Why would someone want to cause this kind of impairment? People who spoof often do it maliciously to cause harm to the user, for personal or financial gain, or because they are engaged in illegal activities.

Who Is at Risk?

What types of industries are at risk for GPS jamming and spoofing? Almost any business that relies on GPS information — from transportation companies, municipalities, financial institutions, military organizations, those who use unmanned aircraft, mobile mapping systems, to the GPS units used in smartphones and vehicle navigation, including automobiles — and others can be negatively impacted.

Imagine you are in the military, and your entire operation relies on information from a GPS receiver. If the GPS goes down or supplies incorrect data, it can cost lives in addition to valuable equipment. Military organizations around the world have the ability to employ spoofing and jamming countermeasures in many instances.

Communication jamming can also be dangerous for law enforcement, as police can lose communications with dispatchers and other officers. Many jammers that interfere with communication radios also employ GPS jamming as well.

Most banking transactions are marked with GPS time. Spoofers may be able to manipulate a GPS receiver to change to the way financial information is recorded. In addition, cell phone towers are at risk as someone can spoof or jam their GPS receivers and cause localized issues.

What Can You Do about Jamming or Spoofing?

How can you detect GPS jamming or spoofing? How can you safeguard your business from potential damage? There are several tools on the market that help detect and locate the source of the interference, and you can also find receivers with built-in interference mitigation technology.

One of the premier tools used for detecting and locating GPS jamming and spoofing sources is the Chronos Technology® CTL-3520, an interference and jamming detection device. It can detect the presence of too much power in the GPS L1 band (trademarks of jammers and spoofers). It also includes directional capabilities to pinpoint even weak jammers and identify where the jammer or spoofer is located.

Septentrio® offers a line of GNSS receivers featuring mitigation tools with Advanced Interference Mitigation (AIM )®. These receivers include a system analyzer that looks at frequency coming in to mitigate the high gain spike caused by jamming and spoofing, effectively cutting out the interference that is causing the problem.

NovAtel is another manufacturer who has added mitigation features to its new line. All NovAtel OEM7® receivers offer advanced interference mitigation features.

Jamming and spoofing in one way or another can threaten every business or enterprise, but tools for protection and avoidance are available.

For more information or to explore tools to protect your company from GPS jamming/interference and spoofing, visit https://www.navtechgps.com/interference_detection_and_mitigation/ or call us at 1-800-628-0885 or 1-703-256-8900.

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