What is GPS jamming?
GPS jamming is the act of using a frequency transmitting device to block or interfere with radio communications. Types of communications that can be jammed include phone calls, text messages, GPS systems and Wi-Fi networks. GPS jamming is also known as GPS spoofing. GPS jammers, the devices used to do the jamming, are also referred to as cellphone or signal blockers.
GPS jammers were initially developed by the military to misguide enemies about geographic locations and targets. The devices were then adapted for consumers who wanted to ensure their privacy or prevent tracking. Without proper technical knowledge or when placed into the wrong hands, however, GPS jammers can cause potentially damaging communications disruptions.
GPS jammers are illegal to purchase, sell or use in the U.S. and Canada. A jamming violation could result in fines, seizure of the device and jail time.
How does GPS jamming work?
A receiver can determine the precise location of any GPS-enabled device or vehicle using orbiting satellites and radio signals. Jamming occurs when a device emits radio signals at the same frequency as the GPS-enabled device. This makes the GPS-enabled device unable to determine its position and can prevent it from establishing or maintaining its connection.
A GPS jammer is typically a small, self-contained frequency transmitter that can send an interference signal within a 5 to 10 meter range. Devices typically plug into a vehicle's cigarette lighter or USB/charging port and require a low amount of power. Although illegal in many places, GPS jammers can be purchased online in various types, including Wi-Fi jammers, Bluetooth jammers, remote control jammers and drone jammers.
What are GPS jammers used for?
GPS jamming devices can be used for a variety of applications, including the following:
- hiding, changing or obscuring positioning signals from GPS units;
- inhibiting mobile devices from making or receiving calls, text messages or emails;
- blocking Wi-Fi-enabled devices from successfully connecting to the internet;
- preventing the ability to locate a device; and
- concealing the location of a device or vehicle.
What are the security concerns of GPS jamming?
While GPS jammers can cause minor disturbances, such as signal loss, they also pose a risk to public safety. For example, GPS jammers cannot distinguish between types of communications and may block ingoing or outgoing calls with emergency responders. The devices could also disrupt all communications within a frequency range.
Jamming has the potential to interfere with business-critical operations and data, especially as more industries, such as law enforcement and transportation, rely on GPS-enabled devices. In fleet management tracking, for example, GPS information can be connected to data such as fuel use, driving behavior, engine health, vehicle synchronization and safety metrics. Jammers can disrupt all this information and cause major outages.
Editor's note: This article was written by Sarah Lewis in 2019. TechTarget editors revised it in 2022 to improve the reader experience.