GPS jamming for fun and profit

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2011

The Royal Academy of Engineering says that developed nations are “too reliant” on GPS [via SlashDot]:

While most people equate GPS systems with the tiny screens which get drivers from point A to point B, the report says society’s reliance on the technology goes well beyond that. The Academy says the range of applications using the technology is so vast that without adequate independent backup, signal failure or interference could potentially affect safety systems and other critical parts of the economy.

[…]

In the U.K., on top of satellite navigation, GNSS is used for data networks, financial systems, shipping and air transport, agriculture, railways and emergency services. The European Commission recently estimated an €800 billion ($1.1 trillion US) chunk of the European economy is already dependent on GNSS.

The vulnerabilities in these systems, the Academy says, could have dire consequences if exposed.

But why worry, right? So long as we keep the satellites maintained, everything will be fine… though we do need to trust in the good will and continuing stability of the US Air Force for that, at least for now.

Well, actually, keeping the satellites running is only part of the game. You see, GPS signals can be jammed pretty easily, and cheaply too [via Jamais Cascio]:

Though illegal to use in the US, UK and many other countries, these low-tech devices can be bought on the internet for as little as $30. Sellers claim they’re for protecting privacy. Since they can block devices that record a vehicle’s movements, they’re popular with truck drivers who don’t want an electronic spy in their cabs. They can also block GPS-based road tolls that are levied via an on-board receiver. Some criminals use them to beat trackers inside stolen cargo. “We originally expected that jammers might be assembled by spotty youths in their bedrooms,” says Last. “But now they’re made in factories in China.”

Last is worried that jammers could cause as much havoc on land as he discovered on the Galatea, and he’s not alone. In November 2010, a NASA-appointed executive committee for “space-based positioning, navigation and timing” warned that jamming devices could cause disaster if activated in cities. It is not known how many are out there, but the panel is concerned that the risk of interference is growing fast. And in future, devices called “spoofers” – which subtly trick GPS receivers into giving false readings – may make the problem even worse…

Repeat after me: Everything Can And Will Be Hacked. But the Royal Academy’s warning is worth considering; we’re at a civilisational stage where a global positioning system is a necessity. The problem with GPS is its hierarchical structure: everything depends on the sats, which are rather hard (and expensive) to maintain. I’m no expert on this sort of thing, but shouldn’t it be possible to build some sort of surface-based network that can achieve a similar result? Some smartphones can do rough positioning by signal triangulation, and I’m betting you could find a way to make that method more effective and widespread for the same budget as a few satellite launches.

That said, there’s a whole lot of the planet that doesn’t have cellphone towers (the oceans, for a start), so ground-based systems are always going to be a crude and limited second-tier fallback… if I was working for a commercial space outfit right now, I’d be keeping the necessity for GPS maintenance on the boardroom whiteboard as a potential revenue stream.


Ayn Rand’s PR department: ambitious, unhinged

Paul Raven @ 13-08-2010

What do you get when you give an Ayn Rand fan a car with GPS, and a surfeit of spare time and money? The world’s largest GPS graffito, that’s what:

World's largest writing: "read Ayn Rand"

It’s a step up from “Kilroy Woz Ere”, I guess. Heck of an epitaph for a nation, though.

Added Objectivism-mocking bonus [via MetaFilter]: Our Daughter Isn’t a Selfish Brat; Your Son Just Hasn’t Read Atlas Shrugged. I LOL’d.


Under Your Skin: The Implants are Coming

Brenda Cooper @ 02-06-2010

This idea for this article started when I was doing some research on prosthetics and came across an article about a wheelchair that can be controlled with brainwaves. That got me thinking about what else we might be doing to use electronics or other implants to manage our interface with the world. This was pretty interesting research: I learned a new word (Geoslavery, or location control), and I got to see that the new wave in implants may not be chips at all. Continue reading “Under Your Skin: The Implants are Coming”


Spimes go mainstream

Paul Raven @ 16-04-2010

When The Guardian is cheerfully reporting about a UCL project called Tales of Things that intends to track the life of QR code-tagged objects across the web as well as geographical space, I think we can safely say the idea of the spime is moving beyond the realm of pure theory. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to Google my notepad…


Outside the media: the geofenced future of advertising

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2010

Geolocation + smartphones + permission marketing – [old media channels] = ?

The campaign was created by Placecast, a location-based mobile ad company in San Francisco. It uses a practice called geo-fencing, which draws a virtual perimeter around a particular location. When someone steps into the geo-fenced area, a text message is sent, but only if consumers have opted in to receive messages.

[…]

Placecast created 1,000 geo-fences in and around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, cities where the North Face has many stores and areas that get a lot of snow or rain, so the company can tailor its messages to the weather. In urban areas, the fences are up to half a mile around stores, and in suburban areas they are up to a mile around stores.

Stowe Boyd reckons it’ll stick, and I’m inclined to agree.

It is going to be huge, especially with young people who text preferentially over talking on their phones. And of course, the retailers will pay for the messages.

And even better than come-ons like these will be the coupons. I am driving past the local Giant supermaket, and I get a text message with an attachment: 2 coupons for brands that I have registered at the Giant website. […]

But what Miller completely forgets to mention is that this is direct advertising, like direct mail was. This will end run the media companies who have made their bread and butter from advertising and coupons. If Domino’s can text me a code to get two pizzas half off today, why would the[y] advertise in the local paper?

If the future of advertising is direct and opt-in, through mobile devices to the consumer, the media lose the support of retail and local advertisers.

Yes, consumers still need to learn about PF Chiangs in the first place, but that is much more likely to be a direct experience, too, like going there with friends and then signing up for text-based promotions because it’s mentioned on the menu, or a friend uses a coupon or discount code.

The future of advertising is moving outside of media, and that’s another nail in the coffin for traditional print media.

And of course, there’ll be ways to game the locational ads system, too; step beyond the text message coupons and into mobile map apps, and suddenly there’s an incentive not to send you by the shortest route, but by the most lucrative – a brainwave courtesy of Jan Chipchase, caught in traffic in Virginia:

… the result I suspect of a sat-nav that decided that every possible road-works was a Point of Interest. Which might sound a bit far fetched today, until you consider that someone somewhere is drawing on ever more reams of data to serve up your your route – and someone else somewhere else is using every tool in their disposable to cajole individuals of interest past places ‘of interest’.

When the company pitching you advertising *also* calculates the most ‘efficient’ route to take from A to B you need to ask the criteria by wh[ich] efficiency is measured. And keep asking – the answer will likely change with the ebb and flow of financial results.

Of course, you could always turn off your phone, foregoing the navigational assistance in exchange for freedom from interstitial marketing. But then there’s a 93% chance that your route will be guessed by analysis of your previous movements, so you might as well leave it on and hope for a good open-source ad-blocker app…

… though this is almost certainly more worth worrying about than geolocational robbery crews.


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