19:40 GMT +316 July 2019
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    Don’t Panic! Western GPS Network Approaches Its Next Y2K Moment

    CC0 / Enrique Dans / GPS
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    If you have never used a map, now might be a good time to learn, especially since a software bug could cause failures in older GPS satellites and devices on April 6.

    According to multiple reports, the bug is expected to mimic the much threatened but ultimately uneventful Y2K bug, an issue in the coding of computerized systems predicted to bring down computers and computer networks around the world in 2000. 

    Until the 1990s, many computer programs abbreviated four-digit years as just two digits, recognizing ‘98' as ‘1998.' Many experts believed that on January 1, 2000, many computers would fail to operate correctly due to being unable to recognize ‘00' as ‘2000.'

    Several organizations went to great lengths to amend algorithms on their computers so that their networks would recognize 2000 as a leap year. As a result of algorithm amendments, there were very few incidents of software failures in the millennial changeover.

    But just like the ballyhooed Y2K bug, many experts believe that a similar problem could cause GPS systems to crash on April 6.

    According to Komando.com, GPS transmits "accurate dates and times to receivers by providing them with the current week and the number of seconds we are into the week."

    At issue is the fact that these timestamps are "encoded in a 10-bit field." As a result, the number for the week can only hold 1,024 integer values, causing the week counter to reset to zero every 1,024 weeks, or around 20 years.

    The first GPS week was logged on January 6, 1980 and the first reset occured 1,024 weeks later, on August 21, 1999. Most systems updated seamlessly and the changeover went mostly unnoticed.

    A second rollover will take place April 6.

    In April 2018, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent a memo warning "federal, state, local, and private sector organizations" of the upcoming date change. 

    "Critical Infrastructure (CI) owners and operators and other users who obtain Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) from Global Positioning System (GPS) devices should be aware of the GPS Week Number (WN) rollover events and the possible effect a GPS WN rollover event may have on the reliability of the reported UTC," the memo stated.

    "A GPS device that conforms to the latest IS-GPS-200 and provides UTC should not be adversely affected. However, tests of some GPS devices revealed that not all manufacturer implementations correctly handle the April 6, 2019, WN rollover."

    According to Bill Malik, vice president of cyber security company Trend Micro, he is "not going to be flying on April 6," in an interview with Tom's Guide.

    "Ports load and unload containers automatically, using GPS to guide the cranes," Malik noted. "Public-safety systems incorporate GPS systems, as do traffic-monitoring systems for bridges."

    "Twenty years ago these links were primitive," he said, adding that "now they are embedded. So any impact now will be substantially greater."

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