How does signal jamming halt wireless communications?

Anton P. | October 19, 2022

Signal jamming is an attempt to interfere with and halt wireless communications. The culprits transmit noise on a particular radio frequency. Then, anyone within the affected area cannot use services relying on that frequency.

Confusingly, jammers do not prevent devices from having decent reception. However, they will deter targets from initiating or receiving calls or messages. Signal jamming also impacts internet services, preventing people from going online.

Therefore, this interruption of wireless communications can have dire consequences, like halting attempts to contact emergency services. Let’s see how signal jammers work and how you can recognize such attacks.

What is signal jamming? Is it legal?

Signal jamming overpowers the targeted signal frequency and prevents nearby users from sending or receiving data. All devices that transmit or accept wireless signals through a particular frequency are vulnerable to jamming. Thus, jamming could target Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and radio communications.

Due to its dangerous impact, jamming is illegal in most countries. Culprits face hefty fines and jail terms if caught using jamming equipment to disrupt wireless communications.

In theory, signal jamming could help designate no-phone areas, particularly in schools. However, jamming equipment usage is, in most cases, against the law.

In France, a man used a multi-band jammer to stop his children from going online at night. However, the attempt to restrict internet usage at home extended to its neighbors, causing a disruption.

For this jamming, the man faced a 30,000 euro fine and a jail sentence of up to six months. So, even seemingly innocuous use of jamming can land you in hot water with law enforcement agencies.

How does signal jamming work?

Signal jamming is an intentional disruption of communications by emitting strong signals and overwhelming frequencies. Based on its operation, jamming is a type of DDoS or DoS attack halting wireless exchanges.

Also, deliberate interruption is vital, as unintentional jamming is interference. The latter can occur when Wi-Fi signals get weakened by nearby devices using the same frequency.

Jamming equipment can be a relatively small device that broadcasts a continuous signal to prevent other transmissions. Some high-end products can cost thousands, but there is also dangerously affordable equipment. Here are the main types of jamming systems:

  • Hand-held or portable systems might affect smaller areas.
  • A stationary signal jamming device can work within a bigger radius and disrupt a range of frequencies.
  • Self-made devices that cover smaller areas can likely target one or two frequencies.

How dangerous is signal jamming?

Regardless of its intention, signal jamming can be highly dangerous, especially if used without proper skills. For instance, people might not realize the range of the chosen jamming device.

Furthermore, testing jamming products is a delicate matter as it is a federal offense. In the United States, jammers might face both criminal and civil liabilities.

Overall, signal jamming forces people or services to go offline, and such interference can be highly alarming:

  • Interference with security systems. Burglars could use jamming equipment to prevent wireless security alerts from reaching a base station. Thus, if someone tries to break in, security systems cannot transfer the alert.
  • Cameras go down. Jamming could overcrowd frequencies used for security cameras. Culprits can find which frequencies security systems use simply by searching online. Security device companies need to show which frequencies they transmit signals.
  • Inability to contact emergency services. Distress calls might not reach emergency responders if jamming disrupts radio communications.
  • Disrupt day-to-day tasks. People might be unable to perform their daily communications with friends, family, or colleagues.
  • A form of censorship. Some regimes can use signal jamming to prevent specific broadcasts or stop people from communicating.

Signal jamming as means of censorship

Government-ordered jamming could shut down internet access for users in particular areas. In other cases, radio broadcasts from other countries could also render unavailable due to jamming systems.

Can you detect signal jamming?

Relating connectivity issues with signal jamming can be difficult. However, if you notice these signs, you might be a target of this attack:

  • You have decent reception but cannot call or send messages. The reception bars can be lower than usual but not bad enough to halt all communications.
  • Routers do not show any issues, but you cannot go online. Your internet connection might appear normal even if signal jamming occurs.
  • Do not trust apps claiming to detect jamming. Apps claiming to recognize jamming are usually fake and show bogus results.
  • If you suspect jamming, move further away. Most jammers work in a limited radius. So, try moving from the seemingly affected area. If the wireless communications work, you could be a victim of signal jamming.
  • Call your service providers. Other underlying reasons might constitute wireless communication failures. Thus, consult your providers about the possible causes.

Protect yourself from signal jamming

Besides detecting when someone tries to jam your signals, you might consider some methods of prevention.

First of all, you can change the Wi-Fi frequency and channel. Most signal jamming devices will block the 2.4 GHz frequency. Thus, by choosing 5 GHz, you might restore your internet connection.

Regarding home security systems, you can turn to tools that use proprietary algorithms capable of recognizing jamming. Then, such programs alert the owner about someone trying to jam security systems.

Lastly, you can try using VoIP services if you cannot send messages or calls. That should help evade attempts to disturb radio frequencies.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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