GPS Hacking Helps Thieves Steal Trucks, and Could Let Traders Cheat the Stock Market

By Sarah Zhang | February 23, 2012 5:20 pm

spacing is important

Tampering with GPS signals can cause big problems in both shipping routes and financial markets, warned experts at a conference on GPS security. The technology is routinely used in navigation and time synchronization nowadays, but signals are left vulnerable to jamming and spoofing.

This is partly because GPS signals are relatively weak: “A GPS satellite emits no more power than a car headlight, and with that it has to illuminate half the Earth’s surface,” said David Last, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, to the BBC.

Jamming devices work by broadcasting a signal at the same frequency as GPS, and can be bought for less than $100 online. When researchers set up 20 jamming monitors in locations around the UK, they caught 60 incidents in 6 months. They think most of these are from stolen trucks, where thieves jam the truck’s GPS to keep from broadcasting its location. According to Last, jamming GPS ships on ships isn’t much harder: Tests found that every major system was affected by a device with less than 1/1000 the power of a cell phone. The Financial Times reports:

The display showed the ship travelling over land in Belfast, while we were plainly in the North Sea,” said Bob Cockshott, director of position, navigation and timing at the ICT Knowledge Transfer Network, who participated in the test. “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.

GPS spoofing is a little more sophisticated, as it requires giving off fake signals to trick the receiver. Since stock markets are synchronized with GPS, spoofing can let unscrupulous traders “change” the timestamp in one location and exploit the time difference from other markets for financial gain.

That’s a hypothetical scenario for now, but experts recommend regulations on GPS tampering be tightened to reflect its potential for damage. It’s not just that we rely in GPS for driving directions; much of our infrastructure relies on it.

[via IEEE Spectrum]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
MORE ABOUT: GPS, GPS jamming, security
  • Bob White

    There is speculation that Iran used a jammer to misdirect the drone that landed there recently.

  • VickiE

    GPS jammers – nothing to hide? So just enjoy the benefits
    Andrew Yeoman, Managing Director of Trimble UK writes in his recent blog:
    The finding by the Sentinel study that drivers in the UK are illegally using GPS jammers to mask their whereabouts raises some interesting issues for those driving vehicles fitted with tracking devices.

    Without doubt when in-vehicle technology was initially introduced it was received with suspicion by workers and trade unions alike, but gone are the days when the technology is simply used to ‘track and trace’ vehicles. The new generation of telematics technology offers huge benefits to both workers and businesses – the value comes from making the best use of what the technology is actually reporting and why.

    The most obvious benefit to a worker who is out in the field – as opposed to be office-based – is safety. All businesses have a duty of care for the health and safety of their employees and for the majority of those who work in an office – this is a relatively straightforward responsibility. Managing individuals – and potentially tens of thousands of individuals – working out of offices, perhaps driving for a significant amount of their day and often working on their own becomes far more complicated.

    Driver safety is a growing concern – more than half of the fleet managers we’ve surveyed across the UK fleet industry consider driver safety to be a priority and major challenge – and recent developments in telematics technology have allowed the management of this far more easily.

    GPS and telematics technology can now easily monitor a worker’s location, status and driving behaviour as well as vehicle condition in real time meaning businesses can have real visibility in to those drivers or vehicles that may pose the biggest risk of accident or breakdown.

    We have certainly seen a shift in the reasons why investment in this type technology is being made. More and more businesses want to try and bring ease and efficiency out in to the field and provide customers with a better understanding of arrival times and more accurate billing so there are benefits that hit the bottom line and go beyond just knowing where a vehicle is.

    As with so many things, knowledge is key – and now with the recent leaps in telematics technology businesses and workers can benefit from improved efficiency, reduced costs, improved compliance and greatly enhanced safety.

    This brings obvious benefits to the business, the customer and the worker/driver out in the field. There is nothing to hide or fear and everything to gain.

  • Barb Hoffmann

    Sorry, the English teacher in me notices these things. I’m sure the author of this article meant “affected” not “effected.” Easy to happen when one is under time pressure.

    Tests found that every major system was *effected* by a device with less than 1/1000 the power of a cell phone.

    We always enjoy DISCOVER.

    Ed: Fixed.

  • 57charlie

    Some of the ankle monitors/tethers used to keep track of offenders under judicial “house arrest” employ GPS monitoring systems as well as RF transmitters. So, can these monitors also be jammed to mask/hide their location from authorities?

  • m

    #Bob white, not speculation, is true.
    #Barb I cant even recall the nuance in effected and affected anymore, people that study language think its more than a means to an end. Most intelligent people know its a representation of information and that double checking and triple checking is more appropriate in the real-world. Therefore any sentence should actually be said twice or thrice to have any bearing on an intelligent person…we are talking iq’s about 100 times above teachers here…about 20 points.
    #Vicki you have no idea what driver safety is nor do the people that expressed a concern for it. I believe there is a you-tube video of china or some country that shows an intersection of traffic. That my dear friend is driver safety. Release the shackles imposed on you by idiots, turn off traffic lights and youll see safety jump a hundred fold. Remove bad drivers who cannot learn to drive effectively by giving them bus tickets. Also remove people who think driving with a knife pointed at you from the steering wheel is a practice that ensures safe driving…. Safe driving is concentration and a vehicle thats capabilities are known by the driver …nothing more. Its not a hard equation. Be it fast or slow, preferably faster…the driver uses more concentration.

    Ill give you the equation and for all mankind once and only once, youll never see it again.
    concentration + vehicle knowledge = safe driver.

    When i talk about vehicle knowledge im talking about the instinct to know the torque of the vehicle, tyre grip front and back, suspension, width, breaking distance, acceleration time.

    Concentraion includes too many to mention.

  • Travis Ehrenstrom

    Nothing like reading a blog and finding out how feeble our critical technologies are… Thanks for your insight on this, and as scary as it is, I’m glad you’ve brought attention to this issue.

    GPS technology has become a terrifyingly important technology in the average Americans day to day, and I think few know how unstable it is. Even with the tracking discrepancies brought to light in the iPhone probes, people still hold little or no regard to their safety location.

    I appreciate your post on this and I think we can be prepared to see more of this type of problem in the coming days.


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