Using Quantum Technology to Fight GPS Hacking

GPS has become one of the most important pieces of technology in the world. It helps rescue teams find lost mountain hikers and it helps lost tourists find easy-to-miss restaurants. But GPS can also be easy to hack.

One Toronto researcher is looking to fight back against those who want to hack the world’s most well-known navigation technology through the use of cutting-edge quantum systems. Amr Helmy, a professor at the University of Toronto (U of T), is using special sensors to reduce humanity’s reliance on GPS by introducing a more secure and accurate approach to navigation.

“Quantum sensing technology introduces groundbreaking approaches to measuring things,” Helmy told U of T News. “It’s an exciting time because it’s a challenging time. But there are emerging needs in both instrumentation technologies and in security, where quantum sensing is the answer. There is an urgency to develop and understand the defence capabilities of these rapidly evolving quantum technologies.”

Here’s how it works: Normal GPS systems rely on fiber-optic gyroscopes that can tell exactly how far an object is from its desired orientation. Helmy is working to create a scalable and lightweight instrument enhanced with quantum capabilities that could be used in aircraft, ships, and even on individual people. QUantum sensors have the ability to beat out conventional GPS due to their ability to “squeeze,” which means photons and their uncertain attributes can be minimized to better pinpoint a specific location.

Helmy and his lab recently received funding from the Canadian Government’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program. A quantum-powered GPS could also help with problems a normal GPS runs into, such as the inability to operate underwater and at the North and South poles.

Finally, there’s the added boon of enhanced security for quantum GPS systems. They would not have to rely on satellites, which means they are far less likely to be hacked or infiltrated. GPS spoofing, which is the process of faking a location, has been an issue in everything from gaming to national defense.

Quantum technology is a growing field and as the industry begins to bring in more funding and experts there will be a shift to seeing quantum having drastic effects on different fields such as GPS. The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), which started at U of T, recently partnered with Xanadu to access their open-source platform, allowing companies in the CDL accelerator to harness the power of quantum.