An increase in GPS ‘attacks’ has been causing some concern amongst the scientific community. GPS, whilst a highly accurate and reliable system of transmitting time and positing information, relies on very weak signals that are being hampered by interference from the Earth.
Both unintentional interference such as from pirate radio stations or intentional deliberate ‘jamming’ by criminals is still rare but as technology that can hamper GPS signals becomes more readily available, the situation is expected to get worse.
And while the effects of signal failure of the GPS system may have obvious results for people who use it for navigation (ending up in the wrong location or getting lost) it could have more serious and profound repercussions for the technologies that rely on GPS for time signals.
As so many technologies now rely on GPS timing signals from telephone networks, the internet, banking and traffic lights and even our power grid any signal failure no matter how briefly, could cause serious problems.
The main problem with the GPS signal is that it is very weak and as it comes from space bound satellites, little can be done to boost the signal so any similar frequency being broadcast in a local area can easily drown out GPS.
However, GPS is not the only accurate and secure method of receiving the time from an atomic clock source. Many national physics laboratories from across the globe broadcast atomic clock signals via radio waves (usually long wave). In the USA these signals are broadcast by NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time (known as WWVB) whilst in the UK, it’s MSF signal is broadcast by NPL (National Physical Laboratory).
Dual time servers that can receive both signals are available and are a safer bet for any high technology company that can’t afford to risk losing a time signal.