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The flimsy receivers of satellite navigation systems can be easily fooled by cheap signal jammers


Satellite navigation systems have become a part of everyday life. Cell phones are equipped with GPS chips, parking lot operators use them to locate limousines or trucks, and drivers and sailors alike rely on them. But experts warn of the dangers of GPS and similar systems.

At a conference organised by the Digital Systems Knowledge Transfer Network and the Royal Navigation Society in the UK, experts warned of the vulnerability of satellite navigation systems. Receivers can be easily fooled by cheap signal jammers.


Weak signal strength

The Achilles heel of the Global Positioning System (GPS) is the weak signal from satellites. David Last, former president of the Royal College of Navigation, said in a speech that they orbit about 20,000 kilometers, but transmit only 100 watts of power, and the signal must reach 38 percent of the Earth's surface.

Low signal strength makes GPS vulnerable to accidental interference from solar wind or rogue transmitters. However, the system can also be intentionally interfered with by special transmitters. For example, 2 watts of transmission power is enough to confuse a receiver a few meters away. This also applies to the Russian Glonass or the future European Galileo system.

Cheap network jammer

GPS jammers are already available on the Internet for around 30 euros. You're not allowed to have it in this country. For example, they are used by car thieves: if they use such jammers, they will no longer be able to find the vehicle they have stolen, despite the GPS tracking device. Truck drivers on German roads have reportedly tried to use such devices to circumvent the toll system. Terrorists can use it to cause huge damage - and, according to Rust, such devices have been found in terrorist homes before.

The second threat is deception. Here, it is claimed that the GPS receiver is in the wrong position. The equipment needed for this is still quite expensive. Thousands of euros must be spent. But Last worries that will change, and that it's only a matter of time before criminals get their hands on such devices, too.

A clipper ship on land

An experiment conducted by The General Lighthouse Authority (GLA) in 2008 demonstrated the dangers posed by jammers: the relatively weak jamming signals from the GLA off the east coast of England had put the ship's position in the system's hot water. Some suddenly found the ship near Ireland, others near Scandinavia. Others claimed that the ship was sailing across land at alarming speeds.

GLA employee Alan Grant explained that the biggest danger here comes not from the ridiculous fault location, but from slight deviations that sailors barely notice. To make matters worse, many people are now so dependent on navigation systems that they have forgotten how to use sea charts, star charts or paddock navigation to determine traditional locations.

Satellite navigation is like the first computer virus, sum up the burden. Unlike computers, there are still no companies in the field dealing with security issues, which creates new problems for users. Navigation is no longer just about determining your own location - it's simple. "Now it's about operating reliably, safely and stably."