We all know that AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a major advance in boat navigation and safety. It shows the track of vessels underway throughout the world, and is used by thousands of commercial and recreational vessels. It adds a new level of safety, and displays the name and location of boats near you, even before they can see you. When it works.
There is now reason to think that some vessels’ AIS systems have been hacked. The mystery is why, and who did it.
The problem is that AIS tracks showed about a dozen ships traveling in circles near Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco. Others were circling off Madrid, Hong Kong and China. The actual boats, meanwhile, were running on their regular routes thousands of miles away.
Sky Truth, a non-profit organization in West Virginia, reported these findings at the annual meeting of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation. Sky Truth said it was clear that there was no common link among the dozen or so ships involved in the “circle spoofing.” They were all different types of vessels, from tugs to passenger ships.
The spoofing also lasted for different period of time. The shortest was less than an hour; the longest, for 16 days, when the circling showed the boat slowly moving inland for almost 1,000 miles, heading for Utah.
Sky Truth and the Foundation are still studying the problem. But three years ago, about 20 ships in the Black Sea off the Russian port of Novorossiysk reported that their GPS locations falsely showed they were cruising 32 kilometers inland, near an airport. Western intelligence agencies were worried that the Russians were testing a new form of cyber warfare. Read more: