Y2K-like issue could cause major GPS problems on April 6

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Now may be a good time to buy a map.

A Y2K-like computer issue affecting GPS satellites and devices could cause some major problems on April 6.

Much like the bug in 2000, many experts believe the systems in question will just roll over and adjust to the reported data change — but there’s at least one tech insider preparing for the worst.

“I’m not going to be flying on April 6,” said Bill Malik, vice president of the cyber security company Trend Micro, in an interview with Tom’s Guide.

“Ports load and unload containers automatically, using GPS to guide the cranes,” he said. “Public-safety systems incorporate GPS systems, as do traffic-monitoring systems for bridges.”

The issue in question will ultimately affect GPS receivers and their time counters, which are reportedly set to roll over to zero next month. If the systems do go haywire, then ships and older aircraft will likely be impacted the most. Smartphone receivers are expected to be fine.

The same exact issue affected GPS systems in 1999 — months before Y2K — and they updated accordingly. However, Malik and others believe society’s increased dependency on the technology could make things very different this go around.

“Twenty years ago these links were primitive,” Malik said. “Now they are embedded. So any impact now will be substantially greater.”

Government officials have been preparing for the data rollover for several years now, as have GPS device makers. The Department of Homeland Security sent out a memo in April 2018 warning “federal, state, local, and private sector organizations” of what could happen now that everyone has become so dependent on GPS.

“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 said. “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.”

To make matters worse, a US Naval Observatory memo from 2017 warned that “the failure” may not be limited to April 6.

“Any month/year conversion could also fail,” the memo said. “Navigation solution should be OK, but associated time tags could be incorrect thus still corrupting navigation data at the system level.”

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