Wireless Jammers Cast Dark Shadow On IoT Security

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Autumn DePoe-Hughes recorded on video an entirely unusual scene at Manchester Fort Shopping Park last summer. If car doors were locked, they could not be unlocked. The reverse was true as well. And, annoying car alarms refused all the effort to keep them silent. DePoe-Hughes said to John Leyden of The Register, “Someone else had complete control over our cars for well over half an hour.”

Ken Munro, the security researcher at Pen Test Partners, explained what he thought had happened, “This attack is about jamming the radio signal from the key fob to the car. Jammers are readily and cheaply available online from overseas sources…. It’s also fairly easy to make a jammer from components available at electronics shops.”

Bad News For IoT Devices

IoT devices more often than not require wireless connections to the internet and or other IoT hardware. And, with people becoming ever-more reliant on IoT devices, it sounds like a perfect setup for digital criminals. Many security experts including Ken Westin from Tripwire would agree.


Westin is anxious about people and businesses eliminating hard-wire communications. In Westin’s article Radio Killed the Security of Things: RF Jammers & Crime, he writes, “I hear a lot about people ‘cutting the cord’ stating they are free from their wired line; even more disturbing is the fact they brag about this online via social media. This puts people at significant risk, the risk that many are not aware of.”

The risk referred to involves the wireless jamming of cellular frequencies. Westin explains, “If a thief or home invader enables one of these devices from outside your home, your phone will no longer be able to get a signal, and you will not be able to call any emergency numbers for assistance. Many of these jammers will also disrupt Wi-Fi, so all communication can easily be disabled inside of a home with the flip of a switch on these devices.”

According to Westin, Industrial and business systems are another risk. “These jammers can also disrupt industrial systems, and given enough power can knock out cell reception for a few blocks, so it is conceivable these types of tactics can not only be deployed by criminals but expanded into the arsenal of extremist groups as part of an attack.”

The general perception is that wireless jammers are illegal, and that is true in most countries. The Federal Communications Commission states, “Unless you are an authorized federal government user, you may not operate a jammer in the U.S., even on private property. This means that it is illegal to use a jammer on mass transit (e.g., train, bus) or in a residence, vehicle, school, theater, restaurant or in any other public or private place.”

Even with the FCC’s warning, numerous websites are selling every conceivable type of wireless jammer. “Cell phone jammers can be purchased online, and the sites selling them have ways of shipping them to US residents and other countries, even though they are illegal,” writes Westin. “Using a cell phone jammer can get you a $20K fine or worse. However, if a criminal can buy an unlicensed firearm getting their hands on a cell phone jammer is not difficult.”

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