The technology is widely available and well-developed, so it’s also poised to proliferate — especially in the hands of those who wish to get sick.
29 Nov 2023
2 min. read
Who’s to blame if your plane is tricked into flying over a war zone?
If the GPS jams, the machines can reliably err on the way to strange and dangerous places, which can lead to increased tensions in geopolitical hotspots. Some signs of that has emerged from the Middle East, asking who is to blame? More importantly, is it an emerging tool in a proxy war?
A hacked GPS that sends a passenger plane into a conflict zone where it can be shot down “accidentally” is a window nest for detection and can prove particularly tempting for all area of contested airspace around the somewhat muddy border disputes.
All that is required is a strong GPS signal near the onboard receiver of, for example, a passenger jet, and enemies can send the plane wherever they want. There are also some inertial guidance systems, but still too much faith in GPS to tempt others into danger.
Fortunately, planes have backups, such as waiting for radar operators to guide them along the intended path, but only if the pilot is paying close attention.
How hard is it to buy or make GPS jammers? That depends on how many areas you want to jam, and from what distance. GNSS/GPS signals are very slow, so they rely on highly sensitive receiving stations to detect their signals. This means a relatively small, relatively inexpensive (~US$1,000) transmitter the size of an external hard drive or more that can jam(s) a 500-meter radius.
The technology is widely available and well developed, which means it is accessible and scalable. This is due, in part, to widespread availability standard for GPS technology which allowed the developers to quickly spread its popularity to become a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s one thing to jam a signal, but it’s a much more complicated operation to fake GPS signals to send the receiver off course. However, the technology is available, and seems poised to proliferate, especially in the hands of those who wish to get sick.
Don’t have enough budget to jam on a plane? Fleets of autonomous cars are a juicy terrestrial target, as are the fleets of GPS-enabled sensors used to monitor technological doodads such as traffic management in cities, resulting in in the traffic breakdown of your choice.
It seems obvious to build strong backup navigation systems in such critical, even public safety, systems, for this event. However, if the rush-to-market trumps the rush-to-security – as it seems to always do – we will see more. If the rapid development of technology channels is any kind of reliable guide, the markets usually outperform security. That means we should expect more shenanigans.
Sure, if a jamming base station continues to broadcast it can attract attention, but keeping a jammer going long enough to achieve an effect seems like an obvious counter. Speaking of countering, there’s still time to claim that you’ve been hacked by GPS when your car pulls into a shady spot of your choosing, but few will believe you, and it’s still hard to prove. .