It’s like the plot to an espionage film. Pokémon Go trainers have allegedly discovered a Russian cyberweapon after experiencing some interference with their smartphones’ GPS.
While playing Pokémon Go in central Moscow, trainers realized that their game’s GPS put them at nearby Vnukovo Airport, preventing players from playing the game. The problem wasn’t just affecting Russian Pokémon Go fans, either. GPS spoofing has remained an ongoing problem in central Moscow in general, with many people’s phones often displaying the wrong GPS data while using location-based apps.
Now, the issue appears to be reaching areas outside of the Kremlin. A June 22 report from the U.S. Maritime Administration revealed that at least 20 ships in the Black Sea displayed their GPS location at Gelendzhik Airport. University of Texas at Austin professor Todd Humphreys thinks the Russian government is creating a GPS spoofing device in an attempt to protect Russian targets and confuse enemies. He fears that, if the device is deployed in cyberwarfare, it could impact lives.
“[Spoofing] affects safety-of-life operations over a large area,” Humphreys told the New Scientist. “In congested waters with poor weather, such as the English Channel, it would likely cause great confusion, and probably collisions.”
Going forward, it remains unclear what steps Niantic will take to help Pokémon Go players in Moscow continue playing the game. This certainly isn’t the first time that the AR title has been affected by GPS spoofing, though. Niantic previously updated the game’s programming to make sure players catch a Pokémon from where it was originally placed from the game’s servers. This, of course, means Russian players in Moscow cannot play Pokémon Go for the time being.