GPS Hijacking: Team of U.S. Faculty, Students Take Control of Drone

But could the plane’s instruments have been jammed? The Superjet has a modern glass cockpit in which instruments are displayed on computer screens rather than the old-fashioned “steam” gauges. These systems depend in part on guidance and control systems, including GPS. Much to the consternation of the FAA -- as well to the FBI and other intelligence agencies -- commercial aircraft GPS guidance systems have been affected by electronic “events,” including jamming.

Closer to home, an FAA report released in 2011 covered the topic of “GPS Privacy Jammers and RFI at Newark,” regarding jamming of the GBAS system at the Newark International Airport. GBAS improves the accuracy of GPS, and according to the report:

[GBAS] focuses its service on the airport area (approximately a 20-30 mile radius) for precision approach, departure procedures, and terminal area operations. It broadcasts its correction message via a very high frequency (VHF) radio data link from a ground-based transmitter.

According to the FAA, the GBAS operation was interfered with by so called “personal jammers” used by truckers, taxis, and others to block attempts to track their vehicles. The intrusions at Newark, according to U.S. officials, were caused when a particularly “unruly jammer” in a truck was able to knock out the GBAS.

In the future, GBAS will be widely used at airports and will be the primary system.

Most so-called personal jammers are simple devices that plug into the cigarette lighter of a car or truck and jam any GPS inside the vehicle, making it impossible for others to track it. Most of the jammers sold warn the buyer that the GPS jammer won’t be effective against externally mounted GPS antennas. Most of these personal jammers, if not all, come from China and are cheap ($20 to $100). It would have taken a significantly bad jammer to be able to take out the GBAS units located along the Newark airport runways that border I-95.

There are plusses and minuses in putting out information like the FAA report on Newark. On the one hand, it identifies a problem and leads to work to find a remedy. On the other hand, it publicizes a major security issue to those who would wish to exploit it.