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America Has a GPS Problem

Spoofing or otherwise interfering with GPS satellite signals is cheap and easy now thanks to gadgets costing as little as $20. Teens and delivery drivers use these to cloak their whereabouts. In 2013 a trucker reportedly interfered with KEWR's tracking system after activating a GPS jamming device in his vehicle. GPS' vulnerability has made it ripe for tampering by U.s. adversaries, criminal organizations and other bad actors. At the end of 2018 Congress mandated creation of a… ( More...

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Tobias Heller 38
Here's the article if you can't read it because of the paywall:

Time was when nobody knew, or even cared, exactly what time it was. The movement of the sun, phases of the moon and changing seasons were sufficient indicators. But since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become increasingly dependent on knowing the time, and with increasing accuracy. Not only does the time tell us when to sleep, wake, eat, work and play; it tells automated systems when to execute financial transactions, bounce data between cellular towers and throttle power on the electrical grid.

Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C., the global reference for timekeeping, is beamed down to us from extremely precise atomic clocks aboard Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The time it takes for GPS signals to reach receivers is also used to calculate location for air, land and sea navigation.

Owned and operated by the U.S. government, GPS is likely the least recognized, and least appreciated, part of our critical infrastructure. Indeed, most of our critical infrastructure would cease to function without it.

The problem is that GPS signals are incredibly weak, due to the distance they have to travel from space, making them subject to interference and vulnerable to jamming and what is known as spoofing, in which another signal is passed off as the original. And the satellites themselves could easily be taken out by hurtling space junk or the sun coughing up a fireball. As intentional and unintentional GPS disruptions are on the rise, experts warn that our overreliance on the technology is courting disaster, but they are divided on what to do about it.

“If we don’t get good backups on line, then GPS is just a soft rib of ours, and we could be punched here very quickly,” said Todd Humphreys, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. If GPS was knocked out, he said, you’d notice. Think widespread power outages, financial markets seizing up and the transportation system grinding to a halt. Grocers would be unable to stock their shelves, and Amazon would go dark. Emergency responders wouldn’t be able to find you, and forget about using your cellphone.

Mr. Humphreys got the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration about this issue back in 2008 when he published a paper showing he could spoof GPS receivers. At the time, he said he thought the threat came mainly from hackers with something to prove: “I didn’t even imagine that the level of interference that we’ve been seeing recently would be attributable to state actors.”

More than 10,000 incidents of GPS interference have been linked to China and Russia in the past five years. Ship captains have reported GPS errors showing them 20-120 miles inland when they were actually sailing off the coast of Russia in the Black Sea. Also well documented are ships suddenly disappearing from navigation screens while maneuvering in the Port of Shanghai. After GPS disruptions at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in 2019, Israeli officials pointed to Syria, where Russia has been involved in the nation’s long-running civil war. And last summer, the United States Space Command accused Russia of testing antisatellite weaponry.

But it’s not just nation-states messing with GPS. Spoofing and jamming devices have gotten so inexpensive and easy to use that delivery drivers use them so their dispatchers won’t know they’re taking long lunch breaks or having trysts at Motel 6. Teenagers use them to foil their parents’ tracking apps and to cheat at Pokémon Go. More nefariously, drug cartels and human traffickers have spoofed border control drones. Dodgy freight forwarders may use GPS jammers or spoofers to cloak or change the time stamps on arriving cargo.

These disruptions not only affect their targets; they can also affect anyone using GPS in the vicinity.

“You might not think you’re a target, but you don’t have to be,” said Guy Buesnel, a position, navigation and timing specialist with the British network and cybersecurity firm Spirent. “We’re seeing widespread collateral or incidental effects.” In 2013 a New Jersey truck driver interfered with Newark Liberty International Airport’s satellite-based tracking system when he plugged a GPS jamming device into his vehicle’s cigarette lighter to hide his location from his employer.

The risk posed by our overdependency on GPS has been raised repeatedly at least since 2000, when its signals were fully opened to civilian use. Launched in 1978, GPS was initially reserved for military purposes, but after the signals became freely available, the commercial sector quickly realized their utility, leading to widespread adoption and innovation. Nowadays, most people carry a GPS receiver everywhere they go — embedded in a mobile phone, tablet, watch or fitness tracker.

An emergency backup for GPS was mandated by the 2018 National Timing and Resilience Security Act. The legislation said a reliable alternate system needed to be operational within two years, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Part of the reason for the holdup, aside from a pandemic, is disagreement between government agencies and industry groups on what is the best technology to use, who should be responsible for it, which GPS capabilities must be backed up and with what degree of precision.

Of course, business interests that rely on GPS want a backup that’s just as good as the original, just as accessible and also free. Meanwhile, many government officials tend to think it shouldn’t be all their responsibility, particularly when the budget to manage and maintain GPS hit $1.7 billion in 2020.

“We’re becoming more nuanced in our approach,” said James Platt, the chief of strategic defense initiatives for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. “We recognize some things are going to need to be backed up, but we’re also realizing that maybe some systems don’t need GPS to operate” and are designed around GPS only because it’s “easy and cheap.”

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act included funding for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Transportation to jointly conduct demonstrations of various alternatives to GPS, which were concluded last March. Eleven potential systems were tested, including eLoran, a low-frequency, high-power timing and navigation system transmitted from terrestrial towers at Coast Guard facilities throughout the United States.

“China, Russia, Iran, South Korea and Saudi Arabia all have eLoran systems because they don’t want to be as vulnerable as we are to disruptions of signals from space,” said Dana Goward, the president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for the implementation of an eLoran backup for GPS.

Also under consideration by federal authorities are timing systems delivered via fiber optic network and satellite systems in a lower orbit than GPS, which therefore have a stronger signal, making them harder to hack. A report on the technologies was submitted to Congress last week.

Prior to the report’s submission, Karen Van Dyke, the director of the Office of Positioning, Navigation and Timing and Spectrum Management at the Department of Transportation, predicted that the recommendation would probably not be a one-size-fits-all approach but would embrace “multiple and diverse technologies” to spread out the risk. Indicators are that the government is likely to develop standards for GPS backup systems and require their use in critical sectors, but not feel obliged to wholly fund or build such systems for public use.

Last February, Donald Trump signed an executive order titled Strengthening National Resilience Through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation and Timing Services that essentially put GPS users on notice that vital systems needed to be designed to cope with the increasing likelihood of outages or corrupted data and that they must have their own contingency plans should they occur.

“They think the critical infrastructure folks should figure out commercial services to support themselves in terms of timing and navigation,” said Mr. Goward. “I don’t know what they think first responders, ordinary citizens and small businesses are supposed to do.”

The fear is that debate and deliberation will continue, when time is running out.
Thanks Tobias.
matt jensen 3
Still have LORAN C receivers on my boat
TiberiusJ 2
Good post, Thanks. I havw been looking for well written material to use during training presentations and lectures at work.
Thanks for the post - the Times site wouldn't let me view the article.
jmilleratp 1
Fight the power! :-)
Tim Dyck 1
Thanks for that post.
patrick baker 30
the nice after effect about being a pilot for 50 years so far, is I know how to make use of a map, and within my city i have somewhere about,a map book of the city streets. It makes for more driver involved participation, not simply listening to some bored gps lady telling me what to do when. Makes me less helpless.
Elliot Cannon 10
Maybe I'm just a little too "old school", but I always thought putting all our navigation eggs in one GPS basket might be a mistake.
Dan Grelinger 10
My experience is that over the past few years GPS jammers have been the real problem, not spoofing. I have encountered GPS interference while on a GPS approach into KMKC for Runway 3. It's the approach that offers the lowest minimums, but unfortunately passes right over a UPS distribution center less than a mile from the airport. Ignorant truckers with GPS jammers attempting to prevent their company from knowing where its trucks are. Fortunately I have only had this happen during IFR proficiency flights in VFR conditions. The 430W advises it is no longer receiving a GPS signal, but shortly after executing the missed approach, voila, the signal lock comes right back.
James Simms 9
IFR - I Follow Roads
hal pushpak 16
Groan, paywall! Nonetheless, it's time to reconsider (for the third time) resurrecting LORAN, now eLORAN. At least as a non-precision option, especially now that VOR's are dropping off the map. The buildings and towers are still standing and ready for new equipment.
SkyAware123 2
Those beacons are even easier to take out than a bunch of satellites.
8literbeater 0
SkyAware123 4
Loran uses (used) beacons on earth.
8literbeater 1
You think an attack on ground based stations in North America is more likely than radio spoofing of signals in space?
You have a valid point. I am not so sure of spoofing a signal is as much an "Act of War" as blowing beacons off of a coastline. But, in a land where burning a Wendys is a "Peaceful Protest" and borders are "hateful"...well, who knows if blowing up physical structures are considered an act of war....
Dan Grelinger 3
Likely, or easier? I think you missed the meaning of the word that SkyAware123 chose.

It truly is much easier to destroy fixed land based stations than satellites hundreds of miles up in space, travelling at over 8000 miles an hour.

Definitely easier. More likely, well that is a different question altogether.
The newer GPS satellites have the ability to encrypt their data specifically to avoid this spoofing issue. The problem is, as it always seems to be, is old tech that either can't, or won't be updated. So the fix is out there, but if people have a 'stupid' GPS receiver, the user is kinda left hanging in the wind. What drove the GPS change is the military, but it would provide protection against spoofed signals too.
mbrews 14
Links to a paywalled site. not helpful
I had no problem reading the article. This is a serious national Security Issue. It needs to be addressed as I am sure the Russian, Chinese, and our other enemies are very aware of this faulty and have considered it in their war planning against us.
Randy Brown 9
Makes you wonder why they turned off the LORAN system.
The whole LORAN system was cheaper than one GPS satellite.
I loved having the KLN88 to make me legal and a portable GPS for back up.
When they shut down the LORAN system I would have had to spend over $10,000 to keep the capability I already had in the panel. (1990 Mooney MSE)
Before that in 1980 231 I was legal direct with a KNS80 Rnav but backed it up with a VFR LORAN and a portable GPS.
3 systems GPS, LORAN AND VOR made it easy if any one had problems. Nowadays with all our eggs in the GPS basket we are screwed if something goes down.
Steve Cutchen 3
We used LORAN for boat navigation. The problem we had was when stations were far from orthogonal. We'd have a tight location on one axis and "somewhere in the ocean" on the other.
mchutto 7
Same here. Obama turned off LORAN and I replaced the KLN-88 with KLN-90B. I fly an old PA-28 and refuse to spend more then the plane is worth on panel upgrades. At the time, I thought how stupid the decision was. LORAN was a great backup for GPS. Now we are toast if the bad guys take out our GPS.
Rex Bentley 4
Sectional, wet compass, plotter, clock. Your instructor probably told you you would need those some day.
Brent Lee 4
My LORAN C still in panel. Captained a fishing boat for awhile with one also. All our adversaries maintain LORAN, yet we leave ourselves vulnerable. Ever wonder what Obama’s true motivation was?
We had LORAN in our old tub...the new one is "Glass Dash" Simrad....maybe it would be easier if I took a four year course on how the run the freaking thing...but, when it goes out - you go NO WHERE.
WhiteKnight77 4
Our over abundence of reliance on technology such as GPS shows how far we have gone backwards instead of forwards. There was a reason once abundant radio technologies that had been around for 70+ years got people where they needed to be, they worked and were less likely to be spoofed or jammed, though any radio wave could be.

I too am able to read a map, and with technologies like GPS, it is becoming a lost art.

Also, for those who want to get past paywalls, if you are using Chrome, go into Settings and scroll down to Cookies and Site Data. Go in there and scroll down to See All Cookies And Site Data and then delete just the cookies for the sites you wish to see. Go back to the previous page and under Add Sites That Can Never Use Cookies, enter the URL to the website you wish to access. You can also add the URL to Always Clear Cookies When Windows Are Closed. Close Chrome and restart it and then click on your link. You should now be able to visit said site. If not, you may need to restart your computer before being able to access it.
SkyAware123 2
This counts as much on Loran-c as gps. Loran-c is even easier to jam or take out.
Larry VanHoy 4
UTC time and GPS time are not the same. They differ by several seconds.
we need the thomas guide back
Greg Held 6
How do you read it with out signing up for something I don't want. I just wanted to read the article
CampGirl 3
Wow this topic got derailed! My pilot husband has been saying for years that putting all our eggs in the GPS basket is a bad idea. We went for a New Years day fun fly in 2020. We were returning to our small home airport after dark. My husband has commercial flying experience, so he is no newbie. We had two bizarre things happen to us. He was doing the GPS approach in VFR conditions and we could see that the GPS was sending us at least 20 degrees off course for the airport. He triple checked the GPS set up. Then, when he tried to turn on the runway lights, he could not turn them on. We circled around trying multiple times and deciding what to do. We had plenty of gas. We were hearing radio calls from hundreds of miles away that we should not have heard where we were. He decided to head to another airport. As we flew away I looked over my shoulder and saw the runway lights on. We did not turn them on and there was no one else at the airport. We turned around and landed. After safely landing he tried the lights again and he still could not control them. Just before pushing the plane into the hanger he tried one last time and was able to turn on the lights.

He has not had that problem since so we don't think it was our equipment. It was very odd that we had a GPS and radio problem at the same time on the same night and it never happened again. I was very happy it was clear as a bell VFR conditions and we had plenty of fuel to figure it out. Was there some sort of GPS jamming going on? But that would not explain the radio problem. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode. The experience reaffirmed that relying on one technology for navigation in IFR conditions could spell disaster.
Dan Grelinger 1
Was the GPS IFR certified? I’m just curious because IFR certified GPS’s should be all but guaranteed to report ‘GPS Signal Lost’ before providing any erroneous position data. A non-certified unit will be much more forgiving of weak signals and will calculate a position if it is at all possible, sometimes pretty far off.

Definitely sounds like a Twilight Zone episode, especially considering the radio calls you heard that you should not have heard.
yes america has problems not just gps
Tom Ives 3
Well - This informative article made it half way through the comments before turning political.........
rickythepilot 3
It's a soft paywall which means you can right click the link and open it in an INCOGNITO WINDOW.
patrickmalone 5
Nope, on IoS at least it loads and immediately goes to a white screen with bypass it.
Bill Gruber 1
Then use Reader mode on iOS.
Jason Apol 2
Dude.... wonderful tip! THANKS!
New administration wants to undo everything Trump did just to prove a point I hope not

Last February, Donald Trump signed an executive order titled Strengthening National Resilience Through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation and Timing Services that essentially put GPS users on notice that vital systems needed to be designed to cope with the increasing likelihood of outages or corrupted data and that they must have their own contingency plans should they occur.

“They think the critical infrastructure folks should figure out commercial services to support themselves in terms of timing and navigation,” said Mr. Goward. “I don’t know what they think first responders, ordinary citizens and small businesses are supposed to do.”

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dan Grelinger 8
Another troll raises its ugly head....
Randy Marco -9
Anyone that disagrees with you is a troll, I guess that makes YOU the troll!
Dan Grelinger 5
Nice try. But, no.

Anyone who attempts to derail a thread with raw hatred is a troll.

That comment contributed nothing but hatred.
RECOR10 -1
Trump, canceled a new (medical) facility, fired three staffers (dems) and closing Primary Care before July 1....bug wins, unemployment is going to go crazy high...
bbabis 0
NYT dredging up old stories to keep feeding the uninformed and easily panicked.
Dan Grelinger -1
It's all about the money from clicks and subscriptions. Certainly not about veracity and reasonableness.
Randy Marco -9
Oh so jamming isn't real... YOU are a loon and a Troll!
Dan Grelinger 5
Read my other posts on this thread. I described being affected (thankfully not in a life threatening situation) by jamming.

Why do you continue to ignore obvious clues as to who I really am and just spew hatred of me?
READER BEWARE - this story is based on $$ - Paywall link!!! Story is clickbait!!
RustySimmons 3
It is on the New York Times site, which is a subscription-based service. I don't know if they offer a set number of free articles a month like some other sites do because I subscribe. Also, it's not click bait, it's a long, comprehensive article.
Dan Grelinger 0
Says the guy who pays them money to read their articles, incenting their behavior.

It is a 'long, comprehensive article' that offers nothing new from what has been reported the past few years. It is only published because the headline will get people to click!
Steve Cutchen 1
"pays them money to read their articles"
Sounds like capitalism. You'd want a socialist press?
Dan Grelinger 1
Of course not. why do you jump to unreasonable conjecture?

I want 'news', not 'olds'. Facts, not opinions. Reasonableness, not misleading bait. So that you may better understand, here is an example what I don't want:

"A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret."

Do you want that?

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dan Grelinger 3
Not only an ugly troll, a prolific ugly troll.
Randy Marco -7
EXACTLY Steve... Dan wants SOCIALISM but pretends he is against it.

Typical ignorant HYPOCRITE!
Dan Grelinger 4
More raw hatred.
Randy Marco -7
Raw FACTS, in your world FACTS = hatred if it doesn't comport to your fantasy "reality".
Dan Grelinger 2
Wow. Again, just wow.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dan Grelinger 8
I'm going to assume, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, that your mind is open to something much more reasonable that what it instinctively jumped to in a blind rage.

As I stated in a post that you seemed to have ignored, news should be 'news', fact-heavy, free of opinions, and of something of real value for the reader. Like the opposite of your posts.

Little if any 'news' today is free. You either pay for it through a subscription, you pay for it by being bombarded by advertising (e.g. "Doctors say do THIS to clean out your bowels every morning!"), or you pay for it by subjecting yourself to mind-numbing drivel that is little more than "YOU SHOULD THINK THIS WAY!"

If you're going to pay for it in some way, it should provide some value, don't you agree.
Randy Marco -8
Oh so clueless Dan... you'll keep believing the LIES until the end just like the Nazis.
Dan Grelinger 4
Don't sweat it, Dan - they're everywhere, in every forum, in every comments section. Just have to call out their b/s as it comes.
Dan Grelinger 3
Tim Dyck 3
Why the anger and rudeness? If you cannot be civil may I suggest you go on Facebook were manners are non existent? This site is more for aviation industry news and views from people who work in the industry or are enthusiasts of the industry. Sadly we are seeing more and more posts like yours and it’s not nessisary.
Randy Brown 2
Sorry but advertising revenue has always paid for news dissemination. Even when we “paid” for newspapers we didn’t even cover the distribution cost.
Advertising control over news is now a bigger problem than ever.
You are the type that thinks police, fire and school are “socialism” they aren’t.
Socialism/communism is when the means of production are controlled by the is when some government lackey decides your wages, where you live and what you can eat..
Socialism isn’t about how we collectively CHOOSE to pay for municipal services. Another big lie of socialism, trying to combine good with the evil of socialism.
Robert Cowling -1
It's hysterical that you bitch about 'socialism' after your beloved Trump slashed taxes on the 1%, and your share of the cost for supporting the government has gone up!

The rich LOVE socialism, they privatize the profits and socialize the costs every chance they get.

If your city has a large 'sports area', who pays for it. Who keeps the profits. Happens all the time. They want YOU to hate socialism, so they can keep you afraid of social programs that would help you achieve a higher standard of living.
Dan Grelinger 9
If you're interested in some real data on the subject, instead of just ranting, here are some facts. I've included the reference so you can check it out for accuracy.

This info is from 2017, just before the tax cuts took effect.

"The data demonstrates that the U.S. individual income tax continues to be very progressive, borne primarily by the highest income earners."

"The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 26.8 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than six times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (4.0 percent)."

"The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.5 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.9 percent)." What this means is that EACH TOP 1% earner paid more taxes than 90 other tax payers combined.

I might have been in the top 1% in ONE year of my life (2001) when I was forced to sell earned company stock when leaving my employer, but in every one of my 30+ other years of working, I was not even close. At this time, it takes about $450,000 to be in the top 1%.

I'm guessing that your not a top 1% earner, either. But, there is a difference between you and me. My position is one of gratitude. Instead of being a hater and dumping scorn on those who foot the vast majority of the bill for that which we receive, I am grateful. I don't think it is being a good person to bite the hand that feeds me.

If one person supporting 90 of us is too little for you, what is enough? It would seem that you would not be happy unless they were forced to give it all to you.
Randy Marco -5
Gratitude to be left behind financially?

Gratitude for seeing the middle class destroyed?   You are a fool and an ignorant one at that!!

No, FACTUALLY our taxes are NOT "very progressive".

When America was "Great" in the 50's and 60's the top tax rate was 90%, yes NINETY PERCENT and taxes were 70% until Reagan massively lowered taxes causing the greatest transfer of wealth in history, which DESTROYED the middle class and vastly accelerated the wealth of the .001%.

You obviously are uneducated as proved by your lack of knowing our historical tax history; yet you spew the party lies conning more people in the act of doing so. 

Instead of repeatedly posting "you're a hater", picked up from the rightwing talking heads; why don't you educate yourself and until you do.... DON'T post garbage LIES, actually just don't post ANYWHERE!

Just another fool sheeple being grateful for having crumbs compared to America's .001% who soon will own EVERYTHING.
Dan Grelinger 3
I guess I got my answer.

Randy won't be happy until he has taken everybody else's stuff.
Randy Brown 2
This Randy agrees wholeheartedly with what you said.
That other Randy spews the 90% figure that NO ONE ever paid. The 90% figure that brought in no revenue at all. The figure that when dropped under 30% finally brought in more money.
The takers at the bottom of the pile are who destroy the middle class. Lazy people that don’t produce. Is that you Marco?

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dan Grelinger 4
Raw hatred.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dan Grelinger 3
Yeah, that too! ;-)
mike goodsell 4
Randy, just because we all pay for it doesn't call it "Socialism". Just tired of pictures of snowplows with SOCIALISM!!! underneith. Question for you. What to you think the percentage of volunteer fire departments is in the US?
Dan Grelinger 1
Congratulations Mike! You've earned a very high honor.
Randy Marco -7
Mike YOU are another dolt that doesn't even know what the word Socialism means.

Look it up in the dictionary IF you know how to use one, sad the amount of UNEDUCATED fools there are but then again that's what the Repugnant's want... sheeple that they can indoctrinate to keep them in office.

Sad... really sad that ignorance flourishes. I guess the election was rigged, and QAnon is real too... AND the seditionists were patriots... Un-American IDIOTS!


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