Technology

The Scary Threat to GPS That Could Paralyze U.S. Businesses

We've become massively dependent on global positioning. An outage would cost us billions of dollars. And there's no backup — yet.

A growing problem for GPS: The U.S. doesn't have a backup system. Most of our critical infrastructure, including power grids, banks, transportation systems and telecom networks, relies on the Global Positioning System. Beyond mapping for transportation and other location services, GPS is used for highly precise timing necessary for high-speed financial trading, wireless network synchronization and power grid synchronization. But the rising risk of a major outage goes largely unnoticed. "I think GPS vulnerability doesn't attract much attention because there have not been any major calamities yet, unlike with cybersecurity," says Marc Weiss, a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

GPS and other timing systems will be even more vital to modern life in the years ahead. Timing signals need to be even more precise for the rise of connected sensors, devices and machines, known as the Internet of Things. A government report from last year concludes that a lack of highly precise timing systems could stall new technologies, such as split-second collision avoidance systems in cars or communication links in a smart electric grid.

The U.S. is more at risk than countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, which all have some form of terrestrial backup system. GPS disruptions happen all the time because the signal is weak and extremely vulnerable to interference. "Terrorists can mount an attack with just a GPS jammer," says Goward. The jammers can cost less than $50 each and are extremely hard to track and stop. Note that companies such as U.K.-based Spirent offer equipment that assists in detection of GPS jamming to help fend off such interference.

KIPLINGER ALERTS: For more valuable insights like this, sign up for Kiplinger Alerts – free 30-day trial!

Sales of GPS equipment will jump once a backup system is in the works. Maker of GPS receivers, which have dealt with years of flat sales, stand to benefit, since a whole generation of equipment will need to be replaced to incorporate the backup system. Eventually, even consumer devices will get updated. Sales of GPS equipment will jump once a backup system is in the works. Maker of GPS receivers, which have dealt with years of flat sales, stand to benefit, since a whole generation of equipment will need to be replaced to incorporate the backup system. Eventually, even consumer devices will get updated. Vendors of GPS gear and related services include UrsaNav, Chronos Technology, Garmin and Taviga.

Most Popular

Don’t Be Tricked Into Voluntarily Paying Higher Taxes on Your IRA
IRAs

Don’t Be Tricked Into Voluntarily Paying Higher Taxes on Your IRA

Traditional IRAs are set up in a way that basically incentivizes you (and your heirs) into paying the highest tax bill possible. Don’t fall for it. Co…
July 4, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The 15 Best Stocks for the Rest of 2022
stocks to buy

The 15 Best Stocks for the Rest of 2022

The lesson of the past two years: Be ready for anything. Our 15 best stocks to buy for the rest of 2022 reflect several possible outcomes for the seco…
June 21, 2022

Recommended

The Murky Rules Behind Financial Apps
Technology

The Murky Rules Behind Financial Apps

"Neobanks" and other fintechs operate in a regulatory gray area, with less oversight. That can sometimes leave customers in limbo when there's a probl…
June 13, 2022
Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions and Credits for the Self-Employed
Tax Breaks

Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions and Credits for the Self-Employed

If you've recently gone into business for yourself, don't miss these tax breaks for the self-employed.
June 11, 2022
25 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career
college

25 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career

One way to increase your chances of earning a good living is to pick a college major that prepares you to work in a field that pays well. Here are som…
May 31, 2022
Why Everyone Is Talking About NFTs
Technology

Why Everyone Is Talking About NFTs

Non-fungible tokens are unique digital properties that use blockchain technology. Our FAQ will help you understand what all the buzz is about.
March 24, 2022