EVERY DAY, BILLIONS of people use the GPS satellite system to find their way around the world—but GPS signals are vulnerable. Jamming and spoofing attacks can cripple GPS connections entirely or make something appear in the wrong location, causing disruption and safety issues. Just ask Russia.
New data analysis reveals that multiple major Russian cities appear to have faced widespread GPS disruption during the past week. The signal interference follows Ukraine launching long-range drone attacks deep into Russian territory, and it may act as a way to potentially stop drones that rely upon GPS for navigation, experts say.
The GPS interference has “expanded on a scale that hasn’t been seen before,” says Erik Kannike, a program manager at Estonian defense intelligence firm SensusQ who has been monitoring the situation. “What we’re seeing now, since about a week ago, is GPS jamming bubbles covering hundreds if not thousands of kilometers around tactical cities.”
The GPS issues were first spotted by the monitoring system GPSJam, which uses data from planes to track problems with the satellite navigation system. The website has logged an increasing number of GPS disturbances in the Russian cities of Saratov, Volgograd, and Penza since the start of December. All of the cities are in western Russia and within hundreds of kilometers of the border with Ukraine.
On December 5, GPSJam logged a limited amount of GPS interference in Russia—the majority of registered interference took place around Moscow, where the Kremlin for years has tampered with GPS connections. However, since December 11, multiple areas of the country have faced GPS disruption, data gathered by GPSJam shows. In addition, wireless data analytics firm Aurora Insight measured an increase in GPS signal levels in the area at the start of December—a sign that potential GPS interference could have happened.
At the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, there was no GPS interference detected by the website in these areas—aside from around Moscow. In recent months, the website has tracked little signal interference around Russia, although there has been some near Belarus. Some GPS disturbances have also been logged near Russia’s border with Finland.
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