It sounds like a scene from a summer blockbuster movie: Thieves use sophisticated jamming technology to block GPS signals while they attempt to steal a tractor and trailer hauling millions of dollars’ worth of pharmaceuticals. It’s true, however, and it happened not once, but twice this summer in the U.S.


Originally used by the military to disrupt navigational systems used by the enemy, GPS signal jammers are becoming common tools used by thieves. They use the devices to interfere with the operation of on-board GPS chips on navigation and tracking devices. If the signal jammers work, thieves would be able to steal trucks and cargo because fleet managers would be unable to quickly determine that the truck had been stolen. What’s more, even once fleet managers realized a truck had been stolen, they and law enforcement would be unable to determine the truck’s location.


Last week, a tractor and trailer hauling pharmaceutical products was stolen from a truck stop in Cartersville, Georgia. Evidence suggests that the thieves attempted to use two separate jamming devices to interrupt the communication of possible tracking devices on the shipment, reports cargo security specialist Freightwatch.


Fortunately, there was at least one portable tracking device, monitored by GlobalTRS, concealed within that shipment, which assisted in guiding law enforcement to make the recovery, according to the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition (PCSC), in an article on Securing Industry. The coalition further says that jammers have limited range and successfully blocking a covert device placed inside the load has proved difficult to maintain for extended periods of time.


Freightwatch further adds that law enforcement was able to recover the pharmaceutical product intact. Unfortunately there were no arrests, though the investigation continues.


This isn’t an isolated event either. This incident follows closely on the heels of another, in which suspected cargo thieves were apprehended in possession of jamming equipment in Florida in June.


Outside the U.S., jamming technology has been used by cargo thieves for some time. Most attempts at jamming have occurred in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and parts of Europe, according to Freightwatch.


These two incidents in the U.S. may indicate the beginning of a trend in which cargo thieves attempt to use jammer devices in the U.S. as a counter-measure to covert GPS tracking. While the recent jamming events in the U.S. weren’t successful, the use of jamming technology represents a potential challenge to the theft recovery process and should be taken seriously, Freightwatch notes.


“As we’ve learned in the past, these people are persistent and will continue to employ jamming technology until they find one they feel might be successful,” says PCSC’s Chuck Forsaith, who also serves as director of supply chain security at Purdue Pharma.


If the risk of GPS signal jamming in the U.S. does quickly escalate, security programs will need to evolve to address the increased risk. A layered security program using multiple tracking devices including covertly placed units within a shipment will provide the best mitigation against GPS signal jamming, according to Freightwatch.


Considering both the worth of goods in trailers and—apparently—the availability of signal jamming technology, it does seem like it’s only a matter of time until thieves in the U.S. make use of the technology. Is this something your company is concerned about?