Ships Are Increasingly Spoofing Their Location

Ships spoofing their location is an increasing problem, Anatoly Kurmanaev reports for the New York Times. All large ships are required to carry an AIS transponder that transmits the ship’s ID and position, but some ships are starting to find a way around that.

[O]ver the past year, Windward, a large maritime data company that provides research to the United Nations, has uncovered more than 500 cases of ships manipulating their satellite navigation systems to hide their locations. The vessels carry out the deception by adopting a technology that until recently was confined to the world’s most advanced navies. The technology, in essence, replicates the effect of a VPN cellphone app, making a ship appear to be in one place, while physically being elsewhere.

Its use has included Chinese fishing fleets hiding operations in protected waters off South America, tankers concealing stops in Iranian oil ports, and container ships obfuscating journeys in the Middle East. A U.S. intelligence official, who discussed confidential government assessments on the condition of anonymity, said the deception tactic had already been used for weapons and drug smuggling.

We’ve seen examples of this before, but this is starting to look like an endemic problem.