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On April 6, a Y2K-Style Bug May Cause GPS Systems Around the World to Crash

News Astronomy
by Eben Diskin Mar 13, 2019

Y2K might have passed without incident, but this event on April 6, 2019 might actually live up to the hype. Cybersecurity and communications experts are warning that a computer error could trigger the malfunctioning of GPS systems around the world. The problem could affect all those who use a GPS to obtain Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), including financial markets, power generating companies, emergency services, industrial control systems, and potentially even aircraft and ship navigation systems.

The UTC on GPS devices rolls over at 1024 weeks (19.7 weeks in GPS time) and that rollover day is April 6, 2019. On that day, the UTC could roll back 20 years and therefore provide an unreliable UTC.

Bill Malik, vice president of data security and cybersecurity firm Trend Micro, explained to Tom’s Guide, “Ports load and unload containers automatically, using GPS to guide the cranes. Public-safety systems incorporate GPS systems, as do traffic-monitoring systems for bridges.” He added, “I’m not going to be flying on April 6th.”

The US government even issued a memo warning about the potential risks of using GPS devices that do not conform to the latest IS-GPS-200 and provide UTC. The memo explains that “not all manufacturer implementations correctly handle the April 6, 2019 WN rollover. Additionally, some manufacturer implementations interpret the WN parameter relative to a date other than January 5, 1980. These devices should not be affected by the WN rollover on April 6, 2019 but may experience a similar rollover event at a future date.”

Reassuringly, expert Greg Milner, author of Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds (2017), told Tom’s Guide that “there shouldn’t be many problems. That includes aviation-grade receivers.” So you can keep traveling, as long as you’re not hopping in an old passenger plane, or a private or cargo plane, which are thought to be vulnerable to the bug because of older flight management systems.

H/T: The Mirror

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