Scientists warn of ‘dangerous over-reliance’ on GPS

Developed nations have become “dangerously over-reliant” on satellite navigation systems such as GPS, which could break down or be attacked with devastating results, British engineers said Tuesday.

The Royal Academy of Engineering said the application of the technology was now so broad — from car sat-navs to the time stamp on financial transactions — that without adequate backup, any disruption could have a major impact.

It cited a recent European Commission study showing that six to seven percent of economic growth in western countries — about 800 billion euros ($1,100 billion) in the EU — is already dependent on such navigation.

“Society may already be dangerously over-reliant on satellite radio navigation systems like GPS (the US’s Global Positioning System),” it said.

Disruption could come from technological problems or from deliberate interference, by criminals using small-scale jammers to avoid road tolls or block the tracking of cargo, or terrorists seeking to attack entire systems.

The report also warns of political interference, such as when North Korea reportedly recently disrupted South Korean military communications.

“A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other,” said Martyn Thomas, who led the academy’s work on the issue.

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