GPS Signals Are Being Disrupted in Russian Cities

“It is not very good at detecting weak jammers or jammers on other frequencies,” Walter explains, adding that an aircraft’s body can shield potential sources of blocking, making it harder to detect smaller, local sources of GPS blocking. “Areas that are green on GPSJam are not necessarily free of any GPS jamming,” he adds.

GPS disruptions can also be monitored from space. Data provided to WIRED from Aurora Insight, which uses satellites to sense GNSS disruptions, shows an increase in signal strength in western Russia in recent weeks, compared with measurements taken in August. “Increases in GPS signal levels have the potential to interfere with some types of GPS receivers,” the company says, pointing out that this does not explicitly mean interference or jamming has taken place. 

Throughout Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, its forces have attempted to control the information space and communications. Its hack against the ViaSat satellite system disrupted satellite connections across Europe. Cities have had telephone equipment destroyed by missiles, and in some occupied areas Russia has tried to take control of Ukraine’s internet, subjecting people to censorship and surveillance. (At the same time, Russia has been hacked at an unprecedented scale.) 

Electronic warfare—including the jamming and blocking of GPS signals—has also been a part of the war. Russia has a well-documented history of disrupting GNSS signals, including testing electronic warfare systems in Syria. In 2018, taxis around the Kremlin appeared thousands of miles away on maps. Tankers off the Russian coast have also vanished from tracking systems. One 2019 report from the nonprofit C4ADS documented 9,883 cases of GNSS spoofing linked to Russia, saying it often happens when president Vladimir Putin visits an area. (Russia is not the only country with these capabilities: In the past eight years, commercial airlines in the US have reported at least 90 incidents of GPS interference, many of which were reportedly linked to nearby military tests.)

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, GNSS signal disruption has been spotted multiple times. In March, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency issued an alert warning about satellite navigation systems being jammed or spoofed around Ukraine and in nearby regions. The United States has accused Russia of attempting to jam GPS, and reports say Russian jamming technologies have made Ukrainian drones inoperable during battles taking place on the ground.

The recently reported GPS interference in Russian cities may be linked to Ukraine’s attacks against Russian territories, Kannike says, although this remains unconfirmed. “The logical conclusion here is that this is a response to the Ukrainian strikes deep behind Russian lines,” Kannike says. 

At the start of December, Ukraine launched drone attacks against military bases inside Russia. This was followed by reports that the Pentagon supported the long-range strikes. Russia’s media and telecommunications agency Roskomnadzor did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.

GPS jamming could stop drones from operating in the areas. Analysis of Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities says the country has multiple types of military equipment that can be used to interfere with GPS. This includes trucks and vehicles, equipped with scores of antennas, that can move to areas where officials may want to block signals. “This suggests that Russia is, at least for the winter, adopting a much more defensive posture where they’re actually focused on preventing incidents in their homeland,” Kannike adds. “The days where Russians underestimate Ukrainian long-range strike capabilities is certainly over.”

Update 2 pm ET, December 15, 2022: An earlier version of his article inaccurately described the location of the cities affected by the GPS disruptions. They are all in western Russia.

Source link