Jamming Attacks

What Are Jamming Attacks?

Jamming attacks are the use of malicious interference on wireless communication systems, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phone networks. GPS systems can also be the target of jamming attacks. In 2020, for example, 85% of cargo truck thefts in Mexico reportedly involved GPS jamming.

The intention of a jamming attack is to “jam” a network, preventing devices from communicating, disrupting essential services, or even bringing down a network altogether in a denial of service (DOS) attack.

Jamming attacks generally use physical devices to overload a network with strong signals, disrupting usual operations. Fraudsters can also take advantage of the service disruption, and therefore the confusion to callers, by committing telecommunications fraud attacks such as call spoofing.

Jamming attacks can happen on both a small and large scale. They can be weaponized as a wartime tactic or in terrorist attacks, or used for relatively superficial purposes. For example, jamming attacks can be used to cut off sound to Bluetooth speakers if the music is too loud at a neighborhood party.

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How Do Jamming Attacks Work?

Here’s a step-by-step process to show how a jamming attack typically works:

  1. The attacker identifies the network they wish to attack. This would typically involve research around technicalities such as where transmitters and access points are placed, and what frequencies are in use.
  2. The attacker chooses a suitable attack method. These can include pulses, sweeps, and continuous waves. (More details on specific attack methods can be found in the section below.)
  3. A suitable jamming device is sourced. Jamming devices usually transmit signals on the same frequencies that the target network normally uses.
  4. The attacker moves within range of the target network. They typically aim to place the jamming device as near to the network transmission area as possible, to maximize interference.
  5. The attacker launches the jamming attack, resulting in disruption or total denial of service. 

If successful, an attacker who carries out these steps can jam a network on either a small or large scale, depending on the severity of their intended attack. An important way to mitigate the potential fraud attempts accommodated by jamming attacks is to protect yourself with a variety of fraud detection techniques and fraud prevention software.

Types of Jamming Attacks

A range of different jamming attacks is possible, with some specifically suited to particular types of wireless infrastructure.

Let’s look at three key types: constant, deceptive, and reactive jamming.

Constant Jamming

Particularly well suited to Wi-Fi networks that always use predictable frequency bands, constant jamming works by emitting a steady interference signal on the same frequency band. On a Wi-Fi network, this can result in there being no available bandwidth for legitimate traffic, resulting in complete denial of service.

Deceptive Jamming

Deceptive jamming attacks use false signals intended to emulate legitimate, expected signals on a network. As well as disrupting operations, these can be used further in an attempt to bypass encryption or to provide false information. 

Deceptive jamming is commonly used in GPS jamming devices. For example, such a device could be used to send out false signals to prevent a stolen car from revealing its true location.

Reactive Jamming

Reactive jamming doesn’t involve sending out a constant signal. Instead, an attacker waits until a legitimate signal is detected and then works to interrupt and replace it with an interference signal using the same frequency. This technique is sometimes used in man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks on Wi-Fi networks. 

Reactive jamming provides extra flexibility and a way to compromise systems that move between different frequencies. Reactive jamming devices sometimes use brief bursts/pulses of random interference signals. 

Examples of Jamming Attacks

GPS Jamming

GPS jamming became a common part of vehicle theft from around 2010. An inexpensive device is used to disrupt signals to and from GPS satellite devices, essentially allowing a stolen and tracked vehicle to “disappear off the radar”. Such devices have been used both for car thefts and for thefts of lorries with valuable cargo.

The same jamming devices can also be used to evade road tolls that use automated systems. 

Wi-Fi Jamming

Wireless jamming attacks can use dedicated jamming devices or specially configured or compromised Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as laptops or smartphones. 

A Wi-Fi jamming attack could be used to flood a wireless network with a constant disruption signal, resulting in slow speeds or a total lack of access for legitimate users. For example, security firms warn that wireless jammers can be used to disable Wi-Fi security cameras, by robbing them of the bandwidth they need to operate.

Consequences of Jamming Attacks

Disruption of Communication

Jamming attacks have the ability to disrupt or completely disable communication on networks such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This can result in a loss of internet connectivity and the failure of the systems relying on it.

Data such as passwords and card details can also potentially be intercepted by a malicious actor as part of a jamming attack.

Inaccurate Navigation and Positioning

Above, we described how a GPS jamming attack can play a part in car theft or evading detection for traffic offenses. Various jamming attacks can also be used in modern military conflicts.

For example, it’s been reported that GPS jamming attacks have taken place in Eastern Ukraine on a regular basis since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. In war scenarios, jamming techniques can impact everything from unit positioning to the flow of information.

Financial Losses

Businesses of all kinds are increasingly reliant on wireless technology, for everything from service provision to payment processing. A retail store or restaurant that’s unable to process card transactions due to a lack of internet access will immediately begin to lose money.

Jamming attacks can also play a part in other incidences of cybercrime, such as masquerade attacks, in which the interception of communications can lead to costly data leaks that compromise people’s financial security.

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Common Targets of Jamming Attacks

The following are common targets of jamming attacks:

  • Military and defense systems
  • Aviation and transportation systems (such as GPS)
  • Communication networks (such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth)

How to Detect and Protect Against Jamming Attacks

The following steps will help you to ascertain how to prevent jamming attacks:

  1. Establish a way to monitor the strength of the wireless signal on the network. A sudden inconsistency in signal strength, or an increase in interference could be signs of a jamming attack in progress.
  2. Use an intrusion detection system (IDS). Such a system can identify unusual traffic on the network and sometimes also take automatic steps to thwart an attack in progress. For example, an IDS can be used to shut down a frequency channel where suspicious activity is detected. 
  3. Educate yourself and other device users on cybersecurity principles. Encourage the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and advise caution when using public Wi-Fi networks, such as those in cafes and hotels.
  4. Use the strongest encryption available and practice good password hygiene.

Alongside these steps, remember that the best practices in cybersecurity may change over time, especially given the developing technology involved in jamming attacks. As such, point number three above bears repeating: Educate yourself about how to stay safe online with the most up-to-date research on jamming attacks and countermeasures.

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