Definition

GPS jamming

Contributor(s): Sarah Lewis

GPS jamming is the process of using a frequency transmitting device to block or interfere with radio communications. Types of communications that can be jammed include phone calls, text messages, GPS systems and Wi-Fi networks. The term is also known as GPS spoofing and the devices used can also be referred to as cell phone or signal blockers.

GPS jammers were initially developed by the military to misguide the enemy about geographic locations and targets. The devices were then adapted for consumers that wanted to ensure their privacy or prevent tracking. However, without proper technical knowledge or when placed into the wrong hands, GPS jammers can cause potentially damaging disruptions in communications.

In the United States and Canada, GPS jammers are illegal to purchase, sell or use. A jamming violation could result in expensive fines, seizure of the device and jail time.

How does GPS jamming work?

By using orbiting satellites and radio signals, a receiver can determine the precise location of any GPS-enabled device or vehicle. Jamming occurs when a device emits radio signals at the same frequency as the GPS-enabled device. This causes the GPS-enabled device to be unable to determine its position and can prevent it from establishing or maintaining its connection.

The GPS jammer itself is typically a small, self-contained frequency transmitter that can send an interference signal within a five to ten meter range. The devices typically plug into a cigarette lighter or USB/charging port and require a low amount of power. Although illegal in most places, GPS jammers can be purchased online and come in various types, such as Wi-Fi jammers, Bluetooth jammers, remote control jammers or drone jammers.

Uses of GPS jammers

GPS jamming devices can be used for a variety of applications, such as:

  • Hiding, changing or obscuring positioning signals from GPS units.
  • Inhibiting mobile devices from being able to make or receive calls, text messages or emails.
  • Blocking Wi-Fi enabled devices from successfully connecting to the internet.
  • Preventing the ability to locate a device, such as during an emergency.
  • Concealing the location of a device or vehicle.

Security concerns of GPS jamming

While GPS jammers can cause minor disturbances, such as signal loss, they can also pose a large risk to public safety. For instance, GPS jammers cannot distinguish between types of communications and may block ingoing or outgoing calls from emergency responders. Additionally, the devices could block more than calls and disrupt all communications within a broad frequency range.

As more industries -- like law enforcement and transportation -- rely on GPS-enabled devices, jamming has the potential to interfere with business-critical operations and data. In fleet management tracking, GPS information can be connected to data such as fuel use, driving behavior, engine health, vehicle synchronization and safety metrics. Therefore, jammers can disrupt all of this information and cause major outages.

This was last updated in July 2019

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