Like aircraft, many of the world’s ocean-going vessels are required to have transponders that broadcast their location. The information is public and can be seen on websites such as AIS Marine Traffic. But according to an analysis reported in The New York Times , a maritime data company called Windward “has uncovered more than 500 cases of ships manipulating their satellite navigation systems to hide their locations, reports Slash Dot.
It’s illegal (under international law), but the rapidly-growing practice lets ships circumvent international laws and sanctions, the Times reports, and “could transform how goods are moved around the world, with profound implications for the enforcement of international law, organized crime and global trade.
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. After originally discovering the deception near countries under sanction, Windward has since seen it spread as far as Australia and Antarctica.
“It’s a new way for ships to transmit a completely different identity,” said Matan Peled, a founder of Windward. “Things have unfolded at just an amazing and frightening speed….” The spread of AIS manipulation shows how easy it has become to subvert its underlying technology — the Global Positioning System, or GPS — which is used in everything from cellphones to power grids, said Dana Goward, a former senior U.S. Coast Guard official and the president of Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, a Virginia-based GPS policy group. “This shows just how vulnerable the system is,” he said.
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Source: Slash Dot