Illegal jamming a new threat to vehicle security systems

Motorhome insurance providers will take great interest in an ongoing study launched earlier this year that if successful should reduce the number of motorhomes stolen by gangs using sophisticated equipment to aid their criminal businesses.

The jamming of GPS systems for one reason or another is a problem that is becoming more widespread in the UK and a group called Sentinel was set up in 2012 to “research into techniques for real-time detection, characterisation, discrimination and location of natural and deliberate interference phenomena and threats enabling trust by ensuring system integrity is not discredited with false alarms”. Sentinel brings together people from Chronos Technology, the Association of Chief Police Officers, General Lighthouse Authorities, University of Bath, National Physical Laboratory and the well known vehicle security specialists Thatcham.

There are many different reasons why GPS signals sometimes fail, including freak weather conditions such as solar flares but there is no doubt illegal jammers are now rife in the UK. For motorhome insurance companies the main worry is that criminals who specialise in stealing valuable vehicles to order are now buying devices which will render tracking devices, installed by responsible owners in a bid to beef up their security systems, as useless. Tracking systems are also used by vehicles carrying valuable loads which of course are another attraction to the criminal fraternity, and devices can now be bought which will block the signal from the trackers and virtually make the vehicle disappear from the tracking grid, the devices will also block the signal to other vehicles in the immediate vicinity.

One of the first actions taken by Sentinel was to place a series of monitors in roadside locations across the UK to see if they would pick up any use of jammers in the area. Incredibly one monitor detected 60 instances of jammer use in the first 6 months of the study, a scary thought for vehicle owners and motor insurance companies alike. Amazingly a jamming device can be bought for well under £100, and it is not against the law. Due to the idiosyncrasies of our legal system the devices are illegal to use but not to own. It is hoped that this is one of the issues the study will address in the remaining time it is due to run.

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