Organised crime ‘routinely jamming GPS’
Published 22/02/2012 | 13:45
THE global positioning system (GPS) is now routinely being jammed by criminals, a conference will hear tomorrow.
Prof David Last told the Telegraph that criminals stealing valuable loads from lorries now routinely jammed GPS trackers on board, and were also easily able to render mobile networks useless as well.
He added that if expensive cars were stolen and then smuggled onto ferries, jammers used to block their GPS trackers could pose a serious danger to shipping as well. “Shipping is also under a real and present danger,” he said.
GPS is the basis for satnav and a range of positioning services, as well as for many other technologies such as parts of the mobile phone networks. Although the use and sale of GPS jammers is illegal, it is not illegal to buy them. A burgeoning trade has sprung up in units that are shipped from the Far East for as little as £40.
Bob Cockshott, who is chairing the conference at the National Physical Laboratories in Teddington, said that domestic jammers were typically used by drivers with company cars or vans that did not want their employers to know their whereabouts, but that organised crime used them to stop tracking by rivals and the police.
Trials of a new system to detect jamming, called Sentinel, are now identifying several instances each day on busy roads.
In the first tests on the effect of jamming GPS on board ships, researchers discovered that every major system was either rendered inoperative or inaccurate by a device that has less than one-thousandth of the signal power of a mobile phone, Prof Last said. Even back-up systems including radar and compasses were affected. North Korea recently used a large-scale GPS jammer in an attack on South Korean shipping.
The rise of jammers has been widely predicted for a number of years, but little evidence currently exists on their use. Jammers could prevent the rise of pay-as-you-go car insurance or road users charging. Although communications regulator Ofcom has closed down some websites selling jammers, most are not based within their jurisdiction.
Future versions of the technology will also be able to “spoof” the GPS system, raising the prospect of thieves stealing, for instance, a lorry with a tracker but giving the impression that it is still proceeding to its intended destination.
Prof Last warned that current legal penalties for GPS offences are “completely inappropriate”, and said new legislation was needed to deal with the problem. He said that current telecoms services relied on GPS for critical timing information, and disrupting them could cause widespread chaos.