July 10, 2024

AIS Spoofing in the Maritime Industry: A Growing Risk and Compliance Challenge

A new threat is emerging in global maritime domain: AIS spoofing. This deceptive shipping practice involves tampering with the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which is used to broadcast vessel position, providers identity, and other critical information to nearby vessels and maritime authorities, initially used for collision avoidance. As AIS spoofing incidents rise, the implications for shipping, national security, safety of life, and global trade are increasingly severe.

AIS spoofing involves the deliberate falsification of AIS messages, misleading vessels and maritime authorities about a ship’s true location and identity, a potential illicit activity. This can be done by transmitting false AIS data or altering legitimate ones. By manipulating AIS transmissions, malicious actors, especially tankers operators, can create "ghost ships," obscure true vessel movements, or simulate fleet movements, creating significant security vulnerabilities.

3-months rolling average trend of AIS spoofing events - Kpler

From April to October 2022, spoofing incidents initially decreased as sanctions tightened, excluding jamming situations. However, between October 2022 and April 2023, incidents surged by 400%, indicating that vessels were adapting to evade detection. After a brief decline, another spike occurred from October 2023 to January 2024. Currently, while there is a downward trend, spoofing incidents remain 200% higher than in early 2022, underscoring the ongoing challenge of enforcing maritime sanctions against increasingly sophisticated evasion tactics.

The implications of AIS spoofing are far-reaching:

  1. Safety risks: The falsification of AIS transponders can lead to collisions and accidents, as ships rely on accurate information to navigate safely in real time. Misleading data can result in navigational errors, endangering lives and vessels, especially for the smaller fishing vessels.
  2. Security threats: AIS spoofing can be exploited for illegal activities such as trading sanctioned cargo, illegal fishing, and even terrorism. By masking the true identity and location of vessels, bad actors can evade detection and carry out illicit operations.
  3. Economic implications: Disrupted operations due to AIS spoofing can result in increased operational costs and insurance premiums. The uncertainty and risk associated with spoofing incidents can also affect global trade routes and supply chains, leading to broader economic repercussions.

Addressing the threat of AIS spoofing requires a multi-faceted approach:

  • Advanced technology: Investment in advanced detection technologies and the development of more resilient AIS devices and systems will help identify and counteract spoofing attempts.
  • Regulatory action: Strengthening international regulations and standards for AIS signals and security will enhance the overall resilience of maritime navigation systems.
  • International cooperation: Collaboration among maritime nations is essential to effectively combat AIS spoofing. Sharing information, best practices, and coordinated efforts among the coast guards will help mitigate the global threat posed by this deceptive practice.

The prevalence of AIS spoofing in maritime regions is intricately linked to the evasion of international sanctions and the clandestine movement of crude oil. Among the top zones and exclusive economic zones for AIS spoofing events, the United Arab Emirates leads with 14.7%, indicating significant involvement in transporting Iranian crude oil. Angola follows at 10.8%, primarily tied to Venezuelan crude for the receivers. Ukraine and Russia, with 7.8% and 3.9% respectively, are both involved in the illicit trade of Russian crude oil in the Black Sea. Iran itself, accounting for 6.9%, continues to use spoofing to move its crude. Other regions, including Turkey (4.9%) and Malaysia (3.9%), with the latter associated with North Korean crude activities, highlight the diverse geopolitical implications. Additionally, Kuwait, Iraq, and Oman each contribute 3.9%, reflecting their roles in the covert trade of Iranian crude oil.

Top 10 areas where AIS spoofing events are observed - Kpler

In parallel, the analysis of the top countries where ISM managers of AIS-spoofing vessels are based, reveals substantial challenges in tracking and regulation. Over 50% of these vessels fall under the "Unknown" category, indicating significant opacity in management information. Russia, representing around 15%, and Greece, highlight their notable involvement in these activities. The United Arab Emirates and Iran also feature prominently, underscoring their roles in managing vessels engaged in spoofing. The inclusion of countries such as Norway, Vietnam, Bermuda, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, though in smaller percentages, demonstrates the global network involved in managing these deceptive practices. This widespread involvement underscores the complexity and international scope of maritime sanctions evasion.

Top 10 countries where ISM managers of AIS-spoofing vessels are based - MarineTraffic

As AIS spoofing becomes more sophisticated and prevalent, the maritime industry faces escalating challenges in ensuring safety, security, and compliance. The persistent rise in spoofing incidents highlights the urgent need for advancements in detection technologies and the enforcement of robust regulatory frameworks on AIS tracks and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Future efforts must focus on enhancing international cooperation to share intelligence and best practices, thereby strengthening the collective resilience against this deceptive threat. As nations and stakeholders collaborate more closely, the hope is that innovative solutions and stringent regulations will curtail the menace of AIS spoofing, safeguarding global maritime operations and trade.

Found this article helpful? Stay informed on AIS spoofing events and more by subscribing to Kpler's new Risk & Compliance newsletter. Get timely insights on sanctions, risk management, and operational updates delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe here.

See why the most successful traders and shipping experts use Kpler.

Request a Demo

Stay informed on AIS spoofing events and more by subscribing to our Risk & Compliance newsletter.

Get timely updates

Hey, how can we help you today?

Get in touch and see why the most successful traders and shipping experts use Kpler