“Two years ago, a new global positioning system-based system guiding jets to runways at Newark Liberty International Airport began switching off without warning. The culprits, according to government documents, were drivers on the adjacent New Jersey Turnpike who were using cheap, illegal GPS jamming devices to prevent their employers from locating them. The devices, whose signals are as much as 1 billion times more powerful than GPS transmissions, were also blanking out the airport landing system. That passing vehicles could so easily cripple airport navigation illustrates one of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s obstacles in its $42 billion effort, known as NextGen, to convert the nation’s air-traffic control away from radar to a reliance on GPS. Wireless networks, financial institutions and power grids are also vulnerable to GPS disruption, according to studies commissioned by the U.S. government and academic experts. “The interference threats to GPS are very real and promise to get worse,” the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board, which is appointed by the government, said in a 2010 report. So-called spoofers may be a greater threat than jammers. They mimic signals from space and can trick a receiver into displaying the wrong location, Todd Humphreys, an assistant engineering professor at the University of Texas, said in phone interviews. “The mischief makers are looking for opportunities to prick us in our soft spots,” he said. “This is a soft spot and a pretty glaring one.”
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