Feeds

Could pen-sized GPS jammers paralyse UK shipping?

Obsolete satnav rivals troll for security pork

Security for virtualized datacentres

Analysis Contractors and sector-straddling quangocrats sought yesterday to convince politicians of the need to spend defence or security funds on radio-based backups for GPS satnav, according to reports.

The BBC, covering recent Commons defence committee testimony, gives serious play to the contention by VT Communications and Trinity House that Loran radio-station signals - while not, perhaps, making much commercial sense - are worth funding for the security benefits they bring.

The Beeb quotes Doug Umbers, of VT Communications, as saying that a pen-sized device could prevent ships in a port from receiving satnav signals, whereas a huge field of jammers would be required to deny Loran service.

Sally Basker of the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) told the Beeb that "GPS and Galileo have the potential to do great things ... satellite navigation has got into our critical infrastructure but we know that it has some weaknesses".

VT Communications has a contract from the GLAs to run trial Loran transmissions at its government-services radio station in Cumbria. The GLAs are an alliance of the lighthouse authorities covering the UK and Ireland: Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The alliance is funded by a special tax on shipping, the "light dues" charged to ships calling at UK and Irish ports. Apart from its role as an arm of government, however, Trinity House also operates as a commercial offshore contractor, deep sea pilot bureau and mariners' charity.

Since the advent of GPS as a serious contender for maritime navigation in the late 1980s, most other electronic navaids have withered on the vine. The UK formerly maintained chains of Decca radio stations, using similar technology to Loran but shorter-ranged, erratic, expensive to run and typically difficult to use. (Your correspondent, as a navigating officer in the early 1990s, was occasionally forced to use Decca).

The only thing that really kept Decca and the rest going was the fact that for a long time the USA deliberately degraded the accuracy that civilian GPS users could get - using so-called "Selective Availability" (SA) technology. However, in the early 1990s SA became largely irrelevant as a workaround called Differential GPS (DGPS) became common. With DGPS, a ground station at a known location works out the error in the civil GPS signal and continuously transmits corrections to GPS users in the region. This makes an ordinary GPS user, without the codes needed to read the military signal, able to get accuracy as good as 1m - as opposed to say 150m under SA.

As paid-for commercial DGPS became widely available, the always fairly rubbish Decca became totally outmoded and it was finally shut down in 2000. (The only people who really liked it by then were old-school fishermen.) Funnily enough, SA was switched off on the orders of President Clinton the same year, making ordinary free GPS accurate to 20 metres or better. In 2007, the US announced that it wouldn't even build SA kit into its future GPS satellites. For those worried that civil GPS service might be denied altogether - an option the US reserves, though extremely unlikely to be exercised off the British coast - it now appears certain that the interoperable European Galileo system will be operational during the next decade.

These developments could well be said to have made the GLAs' free to air British-Irish network of 14 DGPS stations - which they only got round to setting up rather late, in 2002 - as much things of the past as SA and Decca. Certainly the shipowners who are compelled to pay for them probably wouldn't choose to do so voluntarily. Nor, most likely, would they choose to pay for Loran.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Apple's iPhone 6 first-day sales are MEANINGLESS, mutters analyst
Big weekend queues only represent fruity firm's supply
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Bill Gates, drugs and the internet: Top 10 Larry Ellison quotes
'I certainly never expected to become rich ... this is surreal'
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
EMC, HP blockbuster 'merger' shocker comes a cropper
Stand down, FTC... you can put your feet up for a bit
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.