Battling Pokémon trespassers with GPS Jamming

September 21, 2016

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Last month I interviewed Guy Buesnel, a security technologist for Spirent Communications, about the threat of GPS spoofing created by the desire of Pokémon GO players to cheat the game. GPS spoofing is the ability to fake or spoof your location. In other words, your GPS receiver reports a false location rather that the actual position. It works because the spoofing equipment generates a stronger signal than the GPS background signal.

The problem is, GPS is the primary navigation system for most drones. Spoofing can compromise this scheme and severely impact drone positioning. A drone pilot flying over a spoofed location could lose control of his aircraft because the UAV is getting fake location signals and thinks it is somewhere else. As if this weren't bad enough, the backlash against game players is now causing another possible threat to drones: GPS jamming, which could cause the drone to completely lose GPS signals.  

Why is GPS jamming a growing concern? Because Pokémon GO-inspired trespassing has become an epidemic. If the problem continues to build, it’s conceivable some fed up landowners may resort to GPS jamming. This would have the effect of denying GPS use within hundreds of meters of their locations — very simple to carry out with low cost equipment widely available on the Internet. Jamming might provide some relief from trespassers but at the high cost of impacting UAV operations.

Pokémon Go requires players to capture augmented reality images on a Google map by physically visiting different locations. The more places you visit, the better chance you have of getting a higher game score. Because of the game’s popularity, the congestion from many players converging on a specific stop has created a trespassing nightmare.

The game was released about six weeks ago and already there are preprinted no trespassing signs that specifically target Pokémon players. Sears and eBay have made it easy for you to post signage on your property.

Sign content gets amped up from here. The Vancouver News reported an East Vancouver property owner was so frustrated with Pokémon players trying to get in his backyard that he posted a sign.

My personal favorite is from the the August 23rd edition of the Portland Press Herald. The back of the sign reads: “PRIVATE PROPERTY – STOP PLAYING POKÉMON AND GET A REAL JOB!!” Property owner, Adam Patterson, said, “I’m very tired of people trespassing on my property chasing Pokémons.” Tenents' cars are being blocked and people have been trespassing on his back deck and stairway.

Jeffery Marder, a New Jersey man, has taken the trespassing issue to a new level by filing a federal lawsuit in Northern California’s U.S. District Court. Marder claimed Niantic, developers of Pokemon Go, “made unauthorized use” of his property by placing PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms on his and other peoples’ property.

We already know Pokémon GO has spawned GPS spoofing exponentially amongst players who want to get a better game score. Now we have potential backlash from non-players who want to use the same or similar tools to defeat Pokémon GO and protect their privacy. Any way you look at it, this is a lose/lose situation for both commercial and recreation drone flights. Hopefully UAV developers and GPS chip manufacturers are working hard to find a solution. 


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