FBI Notification on Cargo Theft using GPS Jammers Should Come as no Surprise

Image of motherboardNews that the FBI issued a notification of criminals using GPS jammers should not surprise anyone in the GNSS industry. There is already a substantial list of documented incidents, which shows increasing usage.

There is much evidence in Europe and the rest of the world, as well as the US, that GPS jamming has spread from personal use by employees who want to protect their privacy for whatever reason to the domain of the organized criminals, who are now using GPS jamming devices in the theft of luxury cars and the hijacking of cargo shipments. A typical incident was reported in 2013 by the FreightWatch organization in which shipments were targeted near Bari, Italy and GPS jammers were used during the robbery to ensure that the cargo was not tracked.

The parallels between the evolution of threats in the IP Security world and GNSS are striking. In the past the SANS Institute noted that threats to network security were likely to come from the following groups:

  • Unstructured Hacker
  • Structured Hacker
  • Organized crime/industrial espionage
  • Insider
  • Unfunded terrorist group
  • Funded terrorist group
  • Nation State

It seems that incidents involving GPS jamming have now evolved to the point where organized criminals are apparently using them routinely. The FBI Cyber division report highlights 46 incidents where thieves placed one or more GPS jammers in cargo containers with stolen cars, and an incident where a refrigerated container was stolen and the thieves used a GPS jammer wrongly assuming it contained a GPS tracker. The impact of the use of GPS jammers or spoofers on business can be a mixture of reputational and financial damage. To mitigate this we must help operators make systems more robust.

There are various ways of protecting against the use of GPS jammers—one of the the most important factors is that the GPS Receiver is able to detect and report the presence of RF interference which could then be used to alert the user that an event may be taking place.

GPS signals are vulnerable to the effects of RF interference due to the low power levels when received on the Earth’s surface—it is an indispensable navigation system that can provide very accurate position and timing information of relevance to a large number of different industries. These incidents of jamming by organized crime shouldn’t deter anyone from using GPS but rather serve as a wake-up call to make sure systems and services that are reliant on GPS are properly tested and hardened so that criminals can be detected and caught.

What are your thoughts on the use of GPS jammers and how to address the issue? Join the discussion LinkedIn.

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