Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Match Alert: Your gift will be matched when you support local reporting that's fair, factual, and fearless.

Electronic warfare is interfering with GPS in areas of Gaza

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Electronic warfare connected to the conflict in Gaza is interfering with the Global Positioning System in a large part of the region. Non-existent and false GPS locations have made landing planes more complicated and potentially risky. It's also affecting shipping, even dating apps, as NPR's Jane Arraf reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE WHOOSHING)

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: This is near Beirut's international airport. Dozens of planes take off and land here every day. But with military tampering of GPS systems since the start of the war in Gaza, lately, GPS locations are placing ships, aircraft and people hundreds of miles away, at this airport as well.

TODD HUMPHREYS: Beirut is kind of a hot spot right now because all of the spoofing or most of the spoofing around Israel is directing aircraft to believe that they are at the Beirut airport.

ARRAF: That's Professor Todd Humphreys at the University of Texas in Austin. He's one of the world's top experts on GPS interference. Spoofing sends false locations to GPS systems - the new jamming, Humphreys calls it. He says it's been used by Russia, China, occasionally Iran. But that's not who he says is behind what he calls unprecedented levels of spoofing in the Middle East.

HUMPHREYS: We know it's Israel for a couple of reasons.

ARRAF: He and his students calculate signals intercepted in orbit to determine their origin.

HUMPHREYS: And that data points to a particular airbase run by the IDF in Israel when we process it through our specialized estimation techniques.

ARRAF: Israel warned after the war started that it was blocking GPS to counter drone and missile attacks. Mohammed Aziz, a consultant to Lebanon's Middle East Airlines, says pilots can no longer rely on satellite-based location or terrain warning systems.

MOHAMMED AZIZ: So this can give you a wrong signal. If you are flying over the sea and you don't have visibility and the computer thinks he's overflying a mountain, he will tell you to then pull up. And if we don't see outside, we have to pull up.

ARRAF: Aziz, a retired airline captain, says Lebanon and other countries have instructed airlines to use visual navigation. Bridget Diakun, a data analyst at Lloyd's List, says the GPS interference is also affecting shipping. Ships use an automatic identification system, AIS, which transmits positions to avoid collision. But Diakun says lately...

BRIDGET DIAKUN: We're seeing a spike in vessels having their AIS essentially manipulated by third-party operators, seeing a massive uptick in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

ARRAF: International conventions traditionally banned interference with GPS systems. That was until the annual meeting of the U.N. body for digital technology in Dubai in December, which passed a caveat.

HUMPHREYS: If a country decides that it wants to jam or spoof GPS and can make some claim that it's related to its national security, there will be no adverse consequences.

ARRAF: He says there have so far been no accidents. But given the safety issues, he'd think twice about flying to some destinations.

HUMPHREYS: It is simply more risky to be in a plane in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East right now than it was last year at this time.

ARRAF: The jamming has also wreaked havoc with phone apps, leading Uber drivers and dating app users astray.

RAYANE: Yeah. He's 34. He's a software engineer.

ARRAF: This is Rayane, who's Lebanese. She doesn't want her last name used because she says some people are judgmental about dating apps. She used to use Bumble a lot more. But lately, instead of matching her with guys in Beirut, it's flooding her with Israelis like this one.

RAYANE: It mentions his height, how often he works out. You know, he's looking for a relationship. I mean, overall, he seems like a very, very chill guy. I would have never known, like, if it weren't for his biography and this picture of him in a uniform.

ARRAF: An Israeli military uniform. It goes with the rifle he's holding. This isn't just a matter of personal preference for Iran. Lebanon and Israel are officially at war, a war that's affecting the region in so many unexpected ways. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "COUSIN'S CAR FT. BERWYN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.