UK scientists warn of 'dangerous over-reliance' on GPS

March 8, 2011
Directions are shown on a GPS unit mounted in a car travelling along Kaiserdamm at dusk in Berlin, October 8, 2010. Developed nations have become "dangerously over-reliant" on satellite navigation systems such as GPS, which could break down or be attacked with devastating results, British engineers said Tuesday.

Developed nations have become "dangerously over-reliant" on satellite navigation systems such as GPS, which could break down or be attacked with devastating results, British engineers said Tuesday.

The Royal Academy of Engineering said the application of the technology was now so broad -- from car sat-navs to the time stamp on financial transactions -- that without adequate backup, any disruption could have a major impact.

It cited a recent European Commission study showing that six to seven percent of economic growth in western countries -- about 800 billion euros ($1,100 billion) in the EU -- is already dependent on such navigation.

"Society may already be dangerously over-reliant on like GPS (the US's Global Positioning System)," it said.

Disruption could come from technological problems or from deliberate interference, by criminals using small-scale jammers to avoid road tolls or block the tracking of cargo, or terrorists seeking to attack entire systems.

The report also warns of political interference, such as when North Korea reportedly recently disrupted South Korean military communications.

"A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other," said Martyn Thomas, who led the academy's work on the issue.

The US-operated is currently used for everything from commercial aircraft and the tracking of cargo to the opening of train doors at stations.

The report said all these are vulnerable, with consequences ranging from "the inconvenient -- such as passenger information system failures -- to possible loss of life -- such as interruptions to emergency services communications".

It urges greater awareness of the security risks by key services, tougher action on the sale of cheap jammers -- although they are already illegal in the EU -- and efforts to boost the resilience of antenna and receivers.

The expansion of alternative satellite navigation systems to GPS such as Europe's Galileo system or the Russian-developed GLONASS should help, Thomas said.

"But many of the vulnerabilities we have identified in this report will remain. No-one has a complete picture of the many ways in which we have become dependent on weak signals 12,000 miles above us," he added.

Explore further: China launches gps satellite: report

Related Stories

China launches gps satellite: report

April 15, 2009

China launched a navigational satellite, the nation's space administration reported, the second in a series of up to 30 orbiters to comprise a global positioning network.

Safely on the move

July 14, 2009

How can rescue units be better protected during disaster operations or avalanche victims be found quicker? A new localization system connects satellite-based positioning systems with terrestrial locating aids and situation-dependent ...

EU's Galileo satnav system over budget, late: report

October 7, 2010

Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system, meant to rival the US-built Global Positioning System (GPS), is over budget, running late and will be unprofitable for years, a press report said on Thursday.

EU rejects 'exorbitant' price talk for Galileo maps

October 26, 2010

A top European official slapped down reports on Tuesday that the much-delayed Galileo satellite navigation system could be 20 billion euros over budget, as he named a new contractor for the project.

Europe defends 'stupid' Galileo satellite

January 18, 2011

Europe stood by its much-delayed and over-budget Galileo satellite navigation system on Tuesday despite a rising price tag and a contractor's description of the project as "stupid."

Recommended for you

Tech leaders warn over 'killer robots' (Update)

July 28, 2015

A group of top tech leaders, including British scientist Stephen Hawking and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, on Tuesday issued a stern warning against the development of so-called killer robots.

Cellphones can steal data from 'air-gapped computers'

July 28, 2015

Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Cyber Security Research Center have discovered that virtually any cellphone infected with a malicious code can use GSM phone frequencies to steal critical information ...

Where is solar power headed?

July 22, 2015

Most experts agree that to have a shot at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to extricate our society from fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewable energy.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.