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.

America’s Overdependence on GPS

GPS signals are relied upon by critical parts of our infrastructure, from transportation to communications to agriculture to financial markets. But those signals are easily spoofed or jammed and, at least in the United States, have no real backup (despite legislation mandating one by last year). Kate Murphy’s opinion piece in the New York Times not only serves as a summary of the problem, and a warning, it also does so in the most mainstream of newspapers: most of what I’ve read on the subject has been in the business, tech and science media. More people will see this. [MAPS-L]

Previously: GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious; A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Economic Impact of GPS—and GPS Outages; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

GPS Is Easy to Disrupt, and the Consequences of Disruption Are Serious

In an article in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American, now available online, Paul Tullis looks at the problem of GPS hacking, or spoofing—how easy it is to do, how vulnerable GPS is to it, and the consequences we’d face if GPS was disrupted on a broad level. It’s essential but scary reading. The potential scenarios Tullis describes are far more serious than the instances of GPS spoofing we’ve seen so far. It’s not just about navigation: a lot of critical infrastructure relies on GPS timestamps.

Tullis points out that other GNSS systems have terrestrial-based backup systems; GPS does not, despite a 15-year-old directive to build an eLORAN backup that would put out a signal too strong to spoof.

Previously: A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai; The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai

Someone is spoofing GPS signals in Shanghai, and we’re not entirely sure why they’re doing it, or how. One ostensibly bizarre theory: sand thieves trying to obfuscate illegal dredging by zonking out the GPS received by other ships’ AIS transponders. But how they’re redesignating ship (and bicycle) GPS locations into riverside circles, rather than, say, shifting everyone’s position a few kilometres away, has not yet been figured out. [MetaFilter]

Previously: The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

Russian authorities appear to be systematically messing with GPS and other GNSS signals in multiple locations, a new report from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies concludes (CBS News, Foreign Policy, Moscow Times, Wired). The tactic is called GPS spoofing: broadcasting a false GPS/GNSS signal in a specific location to fool GPS/GNSS receivers and render them unreliable or unusable. The incidents appear to correlate with sensitive Russian facilities, active combat zones, and the travel itinerary of one Vladimir V. Putin. In one case, while Putin was opening a bridge between Russia and Crimea, nearby ships were suddenly informed by their GPS/GNSS receivers that they were dozens of kilometres away from their actual position.