GPS jammer to stop tracking messed up airport navigation, driver fired, fined $32,000

What happens if you take steps to insure a bit of privacy by jamming a company vehicle’s GPS tracker to hide your location from your boss?  A New Jersey man found out after his GPS jamming disrupted a “pre-deployment testing of a ground-based augmentation system (GBAS) at Newark Liberty International Airport;” he was fired from his job as a driver for engineering company Tilcon and fined almost $32,000 by the FCC.

GPS jammer interfered with plane navigation signals

Jamming devices “have no lawful use,” according to the FCC [pdf], and can legally only be marketed “to the U.S. federal government for authorized, official use.” The GBAS being tested at Newark Airport is supposed to provide "enhanced navigation signals to aircraft in the vicinity of an airport for precision approach, departure procedures, and terminal area operations.” On August 3, the FAA complained of interference during testing. On August 4, an officer used “direction finding techniques” to determine the GPS jamming was emanating from a red Ford F-150 pickup truck.

The FCC agent interviewed the driver, who identified himself as Gary Bojczak and admitted that he owned and operated the radio transmitting device that was jamming GPS transmissions. Mr. Bojczak claimed that he installed and operated the jamming device in his company-supplied vehicle to block the GPS-based vehicle tracking system that his employer installed in the vehicle. 

This is the first time the FCC skipped over issuing a warning and instead issued a hefty fine of $31,875. That was quick work by officials, considering that at a GPS conference, John Merrill, program manager for position, timing and navigation at the Homeland Security Department said “it took FAA and FCC from March 2009 until April 2011 to locate a single GPS jammer operated by another trucker on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

CBS New York interviewed other company-tracked vehicle drivers who aren’t opposed to such GPS tracking by employers. One driver said she had “nothing to hide” from her dispatcher, but there’s a big market—even if it is illegal—for GPS jammers. There is also a market to detect GPS jamming devices such as the newly released Chronos CTL3520 Handheld Directional GPS Jammer Detector and Locator. It’s a “handheld, battery operated device quickly locates the presence of jamming signals” that is used just like a speed gun. “Aimed specifically at detecting GPS jammers hidden in vehicles, the unit can pinpoint even the weakest jammer and identify the vehicle where the jammer is hidden, even in a busy multi-level parking garage,” the company claims. “Other applications include detecting vehicles with jammers at airports, fleet depots, airport parking garages and in taxi fleets.

GPS spoofing to hijack an $80 million 213-foot yacht

Although GPS jamming can be detected, sending fake GPS signals, or GPS spoofing, cannot. This was recently proved again by a team of researchers that hijacked a private 213-foot yacht as it sailed in the Mediterranean Sea. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin – the same group that proved civilian drones can be hijacked and turned into weapons – recently spoofed GPS signals to send the $80 million White Rose of the Drachs yacht “hundreds of meters” off course.

The GPS spoofing triggered no alarm on the ship’s navigation equipment as a homemade, briefcase-sized spoofing device “slowly overpowered the authentic GPS signals until they ultimately obtained control of the ship’s navigation system.” UT reported that “once control of the ship’s navigation system was gained, the team’s strategy was to coerce the ship onto a new course using subtle maneuvers that positioned the yacht a few degrees off its original course.”

When a “location discrepancy” was reported by the navigation system, “the crew initiated a course correction. In reality, each course correction was setting the ship slightly off its course line. Inside the yacht’s command room, an electronic chart showed its progress along a fixed line, but in its wake there was a pronounced curve showing that the ship had turned.”

Assistant professor Todd Humphreys, who also previously headed up the GPS spoofing that took over a drone, said, “With 90 percent of the world’s freight moving across the seas and a great deal of the world’s human transportation going across the skies, we have to gain a better understanding of the broader implications of GPS spoofing. I didn’t know, until we performed this experiment, just how possible it is to spoof a marine vessel and how difficult it is to detect this attack.”

“This experiment is applicable to other semi-autonomous vehicles, such as aircraft, which are now operated, in part, by autopilot systems,” Humphreys added. “We’ve got to put on our thinking caps and see what we can do to solve this threat quickly.”

U.S. Navy tests anti-jam system to combat the bad guys

The U.S. Navy put on its thinking cap and then “conducted tests to demonstrate how miniaturized GPS protection devices can prevent interruption of this mission-critical global positioning data.” They mounted an anti-jamming Small Antenna System (SAS) on an Aerostar unmanned aircraft, and then subjected it to multiple GPS jamming signals.

“If an enemy is trying to jam, or interfere, with the GPS frequency, this antenna allows us to be able to track and acquire the true GPS satellites even in the midst of this jamming and interference,” stated Eric Stevens, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Communications and Navigation lead for PMW/A-170.

“This new anti-jam system decreases the footprint normally required of such a system, which is now ideal for UAV incorporation and service,” said Donn Rushing, the project lead for the Maritime Unmanned Development and Operations (MUDO). “What makes us smarter is knowing our enemies are smart and that we have to stay one step ahead of them. The SAS development is the latest GPS anti-jam capability to aid the war fighter in combating the bad guys.”

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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