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North Korean GPS blocking sparks cyber war fears

Satnav stand-off as signal-stoppers slow ships, planes

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South Korea will lodge an official complaint with the UN over its reclusive neighbour after GPS-blocking by the North for over a week disrupted hundreds of flights, in what some officials are worried could be the first signs of a looming cyber war.

Over 500 aircraft flying to or from South Korea’s main airports of Incheon and Gimpo reported GPS signal failures from 28 April to 6 May, with the government tracing the blocking signals to the North Korean border city of Kaesong, The Korea Herald reported.

Over 120 shipping vessels reportedly also had their signals jammed.

As a result, South Korea will complain to UN agency the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as well as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), warning that its northern neighbour is breaking UN rules and endangering the safety of passengers.

Although GPS is the de facto standard for commercial aircraft navigation, pilots can use alternative technologies such as the inertial navigation systems which were widely used before GPS was made available by the US government in the early 80’s.

Given that Kim Jong Un is still consolidating his power base in the North after recently becoming leader – as witnessed by the botched rocket launch last month – officials in the South are understandably jittery about this latest turn of events.

“The North has been piling data and training itself through these jamming attacks,” Yang Uk, a senior researcher at Korea Defense and Security Forum, told the Herald.

“These signals are apparently not simply to provoke the South but to systemise its own techniques for a bigger strike one day, knowing Korea is a society that depends on telecommunication and computers.”

A realisation of the strategic importance of GPS in the event of a potential conflict has led to China launching its own satnav rival, Beidou. Russia, meanwhile, is currently updating its GLOSNASS satellite system.®

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