Civilian GPS jammers threatening critical systems

13 February 2013
By Edward Gent
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New research shows civilian GPS jammers are behind dangerous signal interference

New research shows civilian GPS jammers are behind dangerous signal interference

Illegal civilian GPS jammers are behind the growing threat of signal interference, according to research being revealed today.

Researchers will present a study at GNSS Vulnerabilities 2013: Countering the Threat, at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, confirming that it is GPS jammers available online for as little as £30 that pose the greatest threat to signals in the UK rather than extreme solar weather as was previously thought.

The devices are believed to be used by drivers of commercial vehicles fitted with tracking devices in order to mask their whereabouts, but it is feared they could interfere with critical systems relying on GPS for timing information such as power networks and financial markets or navigation devices used by ships and light aircraft.

But alongside the research, presenters will also demonstrate a series of new technologies including intelligent receivers and radio-based backups that will protect against the impact of these jammers.

Bob Cockshott, director of Position, Navigation and Timing at the ICT Knowledge Transfer Network and organiser of the conference, said: "Our more complete understanding of the risks posed to Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) is bringing forward new mitigation technologies and approaches.

“There is no one solution that fits all. Instead we need to combine the right protection and back-up technologies with legal reforms which punish the ownership and use of these jammers, and finally advise government and industry on new commercial and civil policies that will reduce the incentive to jam in the first place."

The latest figures on GPS jammer use on British roads comes from the Technology Strategy Board funded SENTINEL Project and its new suite of detectors, which includes one deployed close to a busy airport that has been logging as many as 10 interference events per day.

The interference profile, with marked peaks during the week and a drop of hits at the weekend, indicates that human activity is the primary cause rather than natural sources of interference such as the effects of space weather.

More specifically, marked peaks during rush hour suggest the main users of jammers are commercial drivers of company vehicles rather than organised criminal gangs – who have previously been caught with jammers in lorry hijackings.

Charles Curry, founder of Chronos Technology, and a leader of the project, said: “Over the past four months our sensors near this airport have detected nearly 100 events on Mondays, but this falls to less than 30 on a Sunday.

“The pattern of behaviour suggests it is likely to be civilian sourced jamming and most likely the evasion of tracking within commercial vehicles for moonlighting activities or for other non-work purposes.

“More broadly we are also seeing an overall increase in interference incidence, which is worrying at a time when GPS is being thrust upon people more and more with GPS tracked car insurances, company vehicle tracking, criminal tagging or asset tracking.”

The danger of these jammers is confirmed by new results presented today from the STAVOG project, which developed state-of-the-art interference simulations to mimic both extreme solar weather and the latest illegal jamming devices available online and tested them on a variety of marine grade receivers used in commercial shipping vessels.

Project manager Dr Chaz Dixon said: "The results from the simulated solar storms were unexpectedly dull. Concerns over the impact of space weather on the most precise use of GPS such as offshore oil operations are legitimate, but our testing proved that modern receivers cope remarkably well with even high levels of disturbance.

“Instead the real danger seems to come from illegal jammers, which other studies have shown are increasingly common. Even the cheapest ones available online can cause complete outages of the receiver signal.”

But today’s event will also feature new mitigation technologies designed to counter the threats posed by the jammers.

The General Lighthouse Authorities will announce details of the first demonstration of a new jamming-proof receiving system for the shipping industry which switches automatically and seamlessly to the recently unveiled back-up eLoran radio-navigation signal in the Dover Strait if GPS signal is lost.

Raytheon will outline how the modernisation and miniaturisation of military-grade controlled reception patterns antenna technology, which mitigates signal interference, is reducing cost, size and power consumption to a level where it is becoming viable for civil operations.

And Mike Jones, senior consultant engineer at Roke Manor Research, will discuss the barriers to wider adoption of military anti-jam technology, and preview a new miniaturised anti-jamming product aimed at critical infrastructure, security and civilian markets.

In addition, the accurate geolocation of jamming sources will be discussed, with technology offered to enable monitoring, enforcement and prosecution of GNSS spectrum offences.

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