The extent of illegal use of Global Positioning System (GPS) jammers in the UK has been revealed in a groundbreaking study.
GPS jammers are believed to be mostly used by criminal gangs or lorry drivers wishing to avoid being tracked by GPS-based fleet management systems They are widely available on the internet for as little as £50 ($80).
The project called SENTINEL (Services Needing Trust In Navigation, Electronics, Location & timing), reported more than 60 GPS jamming incidents in six months.
Unveiled on February 22 at the ICT KTN’s GNSS Vulnerability 2012: Present Danger, Future Threats conference in London, ICT KTN’s Bob Cockshott said: “Today’s evidence from roadside monitoring shows that we have moved on from a potentially threatening situation to a real danger that we must address now, The next step is to develop the system further so that it can be used for enforcement, so that you can detect a jammer in use and then relate it to the driver that’s using it”
The project received £1.5m funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board. A number of partners including the national Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) were involved.
Companies often install GPS trackers so they can follow the movements of vehicles carrying valuable loads. The new research indicates that most GPS jammers are used to stop these devices working. But the jamming technology can also cause problems for other safety-critical systems using GPS. Even a small jammer can affect a wide area with the potential effect of taking out navigation systems on a ship or at a busy airport.
There are concerns that unless action is taken, within the next decade the illegal use of devices that block global positioning system signals is likely to cause a serious shipping accident in the English Channel. Checks in 2010 showed that even low-level jamming from the coast could cause a ship’s GPS system to start giving false information.
“The display showed the ship travelling over land in Belfast, while we were plainly in the North Sea,” said Cockshott. “And it was surprising how many other devices depended on the GPS working. The compass stopped working and the emergency communications system was knocked out. The concern is that a powerful jammer on Canvey Island could cause widespread disruption in the Thames estuary,”
Dependence on GPS is increasing every day. The European Commission has estimated that around €800bn of the EU economy depends on satellite navigation but this dependence is also a vulnerability, as the system relies on weak satellite signals from 20,000km away in space, which can be readily be interfered whether by accident or design.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and UK regulator Ofcom are working with the Home Office to try to tighten legislation around GPS jamming. Currently, it is not illegal to possess a jammer but is against the law to use one.
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