Cyber-crooks meet their match with Israeli-developed GPS protector

Jamming of signals is the latest weapon used by hackers to make money – and Focus Telecom has an affordable solution

A driver uses a GPS-based app to navigate (Pixabay)
A driver uses a GPS-based app to navigate (Pixabay)

Far more than a tool for Waze users to figure out the best routes to their destinations, the Global Positioning System is used in a wide variety of endeavors and industries.

Among them, to name a few, are agriculture, to help farmers determine the ideal spots to plant crops; shipping, to guide ships across the ocean; retail sales, to help companies keep track of their products; aviation, to ensure that planes are able to get to their destination; and defense, to position systems to ensure response to attack.

With so many industries dependent on GPS, hackers have been trying to take advantage of the system – in some cases, to disable a country’s defenses in order to carry out an attack, but more commonly to extort money from companies by threatening to immobilize them by interfering with their GPS operations unless they pay up.

It’s to defend those victims of GPS hacking that Israeli communications firm Focus Telecom has developed GPSDome, what it says is the first low-cost solution to GPS jamming. The system, according to the company, “is designed to neutralize GPS jammers, which are available at low cost today. The unique aspect of GPSDome is that it, too, is inexpensive, much cheaper than the solutions currently on the market.”

The Focus system is available for under $2,000, compared to the next cheapest solution, which is about $10,000, with the average costing $30,000, the company said.

GPS jamming is the latest weapon in hacker arsenals, used by both rogue governments and rogue criminal groups to disrupt industry and security. According to Seoul, North Korea has for years been jamming GPS signals to interfere with South Korea’s fishing industry, prompting the country to file a complaint with the UN against Pyongang.

An investigation by The Telegraph in the UK says that GPS-jamming criminal gangs were disabling positioning information in order to steal shipments off trucks that indicate their location and activity via satellite. By taking a truck off the grid, criminals can drive it to secret locations and unload all the cargo before returning it to the road sans cargo. The scam is very effective, as GPS is now the most common way for dispatchers to keep track of their fleets on the road.

Even non-criminals are using the jammers to prevent monitoring. According to The Guardian, “thousands of people in the UK are using GPS jammers that plug into car cigarette lighters and can stop tracking systems used to detect stolen cars, monitor vehicle use or stop drivers working overlong hours, according to new findings from experts.” According to experts, blocking out signals in this manner could “torpedo any plans to introduce ‘pay as you drive’ insurance or road toll systems if the vehicle owner was able to block communications with monitoring systems.”

The principles of anti-GPS jamming, called null steering, have been known for years. Such devices contain two antennas, one to “handle” the radio-frequency interference and “deflect” it to a neutral space away from the GPS receiver, and a second antenna to boost GPS reception. Focus Telecom’s innovation was to develop algorithms which streamline this process, making the system more effective, and allowing for a much more compact and cost-efficient design.

Focus plans to officially introduce the system this week at an event in Tel Aviv, and shipments will begin in the fourth quarter in Israel, and next year abroad. According to Focus, it is in talks with several international firms, including car manufacturers, on implementing the system in a wide variety of industries.

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