Exploiting GPS and the fixes we face in the future

Previously thought to be relatively safe, we’re examining how GPS jamming has become one of the latest technologies to be exploited by bad actors.

For decades, we’ve taken GPS for granted. And sometimes we still need a second opinion to get to where we’re going. Navigation has always been a noble if occasionally unpredictable pursuit. Only in the last decade have we grown accustomed to digitally locating anything in the world at any given moment.

But what if that certainty wasn’t so certain?

Last year, more than 20 ships on the Black Sea were unsuspectingly spoofed. Instead of marking their actual location, floating far from Russia’s southern border, they were shown to be docked at Gelendzhik Airport, 20 miles from their true location. Talk about a wrong turn.

Bad actors

GPS spoofing has become a regular activity for a litany of bad actors from criminals to pranksters. We know these threats exist, plain and simple; countering and avoiding them has become part of the job for developers and users alike. While still maintained by the US military, GPS satellites have gradually become more publicly available, creating opportunities for exploitation.

The risks are equally formidable. A recent London economics report estimated that should GPS be completely taken over or downed for a five-day period, the United Kingdom would be susceptible to a financial loss totalling upwards of $1bn per day.

And the implications of GPS exploitation are growing.

Car thieves are using GPS jammers to circumvent security systems in luxury vehicles; Lyft and Uber drivers could appear on the clock while they’re actually on the couch; and truck drivers can stop employers from tracking them in real time. The latter has become deceptively significant, as jammers have started to interrupt integral signals at destinations such as airports.

While all of this puts the economy and people at risk, there are even more ramifications that aren’t limited to cloaking locations. Servers can be hacked, letting criminals replace real data with fake data and cell phones can actually be disabled on a large scale. Sadly, it’s easier than it sounds according to those government officials and security consultants playing defense.

Trusted and secure

Sure, most GPS data is vulnerable to manipulation, but increased efforts across the globe to combat these threats is a group effort. That’s why we look to build systems that are not only intelligent, but like HERE OTA Connect, they have security as part of their core thinking, rather than an afterthought.

At HERE, it’s an effort we take seriously. Most of us don’t worry about heading to Starbucks and ending up in an empty lot miles away. GPS technology is stronger and more reliable than ever, and the security to protect that capability is only growing. HERE is happy to work with our customers and our data partners on that journey.

Topics: Cartography, Editor's picks

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