AIS spoofing: new technologies for new threats

AIS spoofing: new technologies for new threats

AIS spoofing is the deliberate use of AIS manipulation and it is the latest method bad actors have developed to get away with illicit activity. It’s so effective for evading detection — that without strong technology it can easily go under the radar. 

How AIS goes from friend to foe

When originally developed, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) was used as a safety precaution to avoid collisions. With time, AIS use has evolved, and with it, the reliance vessels have on it. Today, governments and security agencies use AIS to detect and prevent illicit activities at sea. Compliance teams use AIS data as a crucial element of their due diligence process. 

Safety of Life at Seas (SOLAS) sought to instil AIS transmissions as a primary safety tool for all vessels.  But AIS was never designed as a tracking tool, nor was it created as a security or risk solution.

AIS technology relies on radio frequency and, to some extent, manual data input. This makes it prone to human error or intentional manipulation. Bad actors realized AIS manipulations were not only possible, but surprisingly easy. .

Why AIS spoofing?

As organizations increased their reliance on AIS, bad actors developed new ways to better hide their illegal operations. 

Following the 2012 sanctions on Iran, AIS spoofing rose drastically. Iranian tankers, no longer able to enter international ports, simply changed their flags and fraudulently entered international ports. This made it undoubtedly clear that without better monitoring and security tools, AIS spoofing would be impossible to detect and manage.

The AIS spoofing case that changed the industry 

The Yuk Tung vessel spoofed its AIS entirely when it transmitted under a Panamanian flag, using the vessel name Maika, and altered its course and destination. This occurred on November 11th 2018, after a suspicious ship-to-ship transfer between the Yuk Tung and the Ocean Explorer in October 2018. 

During the time of the spoofing, the vessel legally authorized and registered a Comoros-flagged vessel, the Hika. The Hika had the same IMO as the Maika. The two vessels were sister ships, built in the same year, by the same manufacturer, with the same specifications and profile. However, during this time, the Hika was actually over 7,000 miles away. Meanwhile, the Maika (aka Yuk Tung) was deceiving authorities under the Hika’s name. This AIS spoofing case made it clear that bad actors had raised the bar.

AIS spoofing progressed as Iranian and North Korean vessels continued exploiting AIS vulnerabilities, taking their methods to new levels and showcasing the sophisticated capabilities of criminals and sanction-evaders.  

The power of AI

Cases such as the Yuk Tong and Su Ri Bong highlight why AIS regulations and advisories alone cannot stop bad actors. Businesses need strong technology to stay ahead of the game.

To protect themselves from AIS spoofing, organizations need to be able to see beyond what AIS transmissions alone provide.

AI-powered tools can provide critical insights on the behavior of vessels and recognize if the information on the AIS systems matches the historical data of thousands of other vessels. In doing so, AI tools can detect instances of spoofing, helping governments prevent illicit activities, and businesses more confidently vet vessels. 

The right solutions should be measured for how they enable decision-makers to determine which vessels require further investigation and which can be cleared.

Shifting from reactive to proactive 

As bad actors continue to evolve, stakeholders need to follow suit with proactive tools.

New technologies can protect operations, improve compliance, and minimize risk.

To learn how Windward can help you detect AIS spoofing, contact us below.