Please select your home edition
Edition
upffront 728x90

AIS concern - serious vulnerability to hacking

by Tom Simonite, Technology Review/Sail-World on 20 Oct 2013
AIS data could be vulnerable .. .
That AIS system you have such faith in may not be so secure after all. Hundreds of thousands of vessels, including many sailing boats worldwide, rely on the Automatic Identification System (AIS) for sharing vessel movements. Now the system has shown to be easily vulnerable to hacking.

Researchers have announced at a conference in Kuala Lumpur that they have found that it is possible to cause fake vessels to appear, real ones to disappear, and to issue false emergency alerts using cheap radio equipment.

Researchers with the computer security company Trend Micro discovered the problem, which stems from a lack of security controls in AIS, a system used by an estimated 400,000 vessels worldwide.

AIS is an easy target because the signals don’t currently have any authentication or encryption mechanism, making it simple to use software to craft a signal designed to do mischief, says Marco Balduzzi, Trend Micro researcher. 'All the ships out there are affected by this problem; it’s not tied to the hardware but to the protocol.'

International Maritime Organization rules make AIS mandatory on passenger vessels and on cargo ships over a certain size. Lighthouses, buoys, and other marine fixtures also transmit their location using the system.

'We were really able to compromise this system from the root level,' says Kyle Wilhoit, a researcher with Trend Micro’s Future Threat Research team. By purchasing a 700-euro piece of AIS equipment and connecting it to a computer in the vicinity of a port, the researchers could intercept signals from nearby craft and send out modified versions to make it appear to other AIS users that a vessel was somewhere it was not.

Using the same equipment and software, it is possible to force ships to stop broadcasting their movements using AIS by abusing a feature that lets authorities manage how nearby AIS transmitters operate. AIS transmissions could also be sent out that make fake vessels or structures such as lighthouses or navigational buoys appear, and to stage spoof emergencies such as a 'man in the water' alert or collision warning. No direct attacks were staged on any real vessels.

The researchers showed that their spoof signals were faithfully reproduced on the maps provided by online services that monitor AIS data.

One online service was fooled into showing a real tugboat disappearing from the Mississippi and reappearing on a Dallas lake, and (see photo left) depicting a fake vessel traveling off Italy on a course that spelled out the hacker term for a compromised system: 'pwned.'

Ships and marine authorities also use radar to detect other vessels and obstacles. But AIS was introduced as an easier and more powerful alternative, and people have come to rely on it, says Wilhoit. Balduzzi and Wilhoit collaborated on the research with independent Italian security researcher Alessandro Pasta, and presented their findings at the Hack In the Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

The researchers attempted to notify several international marine and communication authorities, but only received a response from the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency that deals with global communications policy. 'They seem to be on board with changing the protocol,' says Wilhoit, 'but it’s one of those foundational problems that will take time to fix.' AIS equipment has the protocol built in, so rolling out an improved form of AIS requires replacing existing equipment.

Even deciding on how to update the AIS protocol and regulations could take some time. The International Maritime Organization, another U.N. agency, is the international authority most directly responsible for AIS design and use, but a spokesperson, Natasha Brown, told MIT Technology Review that she was not aware that any research on AIS security had been presented to the agency. 'This issue has not been formally raised at IMO, so there has been no [internal] discussion or IMO recommendations or guidance.'

Only a formal paper submitted via a government with IMO membership or an organization with consultative status would lead to any response, said Brown.

So if you were just about to upgrade your AIS system, it might be wise to wait until the protocol is changed - or at least until we find how long that will be...

Thanks to the www.oceancruisingclub.org!Ocean_Cruising_Club, the world-wide club for cruising sailors, for the notification about this news, and more information can be obtained about Trend Micro by http://www.trendmicro.com!clicking_here.

Zhik Dinghy 660x82Colligo Marine 660x82Ancasta Ker 33 660x82

Related Articles

Olympic Gold medalist and Volvo Ocean Race winner up for WS Board
Torben Grael (BRA) is amongst the 15 nominations for one of seven places on the Board of Directors of World Sailing Torben Grael (BRA) is amongst the 15 nominations for one of seven places on the Board of Directors of World Sailing in November. The five times Olympic medalist, Volvo Ocean Race winner and several times America's Cup competitor will bring a much needed sailing edge to the Board of World Sailing if he can navigate the politics of the controlling body of the sport.
Posted on 25 Sep
D-Marin Farr 40 Zadar Regatta – Overall report
Enfant Terrible and Plenty have been doing battle on the Farr 40 International Circuit for several years now. Enfant Terrible and Plenty have been doing battle on the Farr 40 International Circuit for several years now. Those two top-notch programs have resumed their rivalry this week in the waters off this historic city along the Dalmatian coast.
Posted on 23 Sep
Impressive tow-in freestyle show on the water in Cold Hawaii
The second day of the netIP Cold Hawaii PWA World Cup proved to be yet another lay day for the main competitio The second day of the netIP Cold Hawaii PWA World Cup proved to be yet another lay day for the main competition as expected with light winds and small waves.
Posted on 21 Sep
Brookes and Gatehouse Videos with Knut Frostad
Navico, the parent company for Brookes and Gatehouse (B&G), Simrad and Lowrance have prepared some terrific videos Navico, the parent company for Brookes and Gatehouse (B&G), Simrad and Lowrance have prepared some terrific videos with Knut Frostad, the legendary Volvo Ocean Race sailor and former CEO. See him talk about sailing in general, the B&G product choices and placement he made for his own boat, and then why he loves his Outremer 5X.
Posted on 8 Sep
Soft Padeyes – light, strong and versatile
Several types of soft padeyes are now available and are proving increasingly popular over traditional stainless steel pa Several types of soft padeyes are now available on the market and are proving increasingly popular over traditional stainless steel padeyes. They all capitalise on the incredible strength to weight ratio and abrasion resistance of Dyneema® which offers a reliable, robust, flexible and safe termination.
Posted on 6 Sep
The hurricanes headed for Hawaii and Florida
The National Weather Service has upgraded a tropical storm headed for Florida to hurricane status. The National Weather Service has upgraded a tropical storm headed for Florida to hurricane status. The first of two hurricanes headed toward Hawaii lost strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm. Meanwhile, in Florida, a tropical storm gained in strength and is now designated as a hurricane.
Posted on 4 Sep
Zhik sailors win 17 sailing medals at 2016 Olympic Regatta
The 2016 Olympic games are over and what a Games they have been - Zhik sailors dominated Zhik sailors won almost 60% of the medals contested at Rio de Janeiro. It was a regatta which tested sailors and gear - with one day being the most severe conditions ever experienced at an Olympic regatta. For the Zhik team riders on the waters of Rio, four years and more of hard work and dedication have paid off for many.
Posted on 29 Aug
Kids Polarised Sunglasses from Barz Optics
Barz Optics have developed a quality range of junior polarised sunglasses ideal for sailing and fishing. Barz Optics have developed a quality range of junior polarised sunglasses ideal for sailing and fishing. Each pair are supplied with a neoprene case and sunglass retainer.
Posted on 4 Aug
Reducing weight aloft with composite backstays
Reducing weight aloft is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing your boat speed and performance. Reducing weight aloft is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing your boat speed and performance. Every kilogram you take out of the rig is roughly equivalent to 4kg added to the bottom of your keel!
Posted on 26 Jul
Free $US3,000 Carbon Vang with SouthernFurl boom orders in July
Southern Spars is giving a free carbon vang - valued at US$3,000 - with SouthernFurl in-boom furlers ordered in July Southern Spars is giving away a free carbon vang - valued at US$3,000 - with all of their SouthernFurl in-boom furlers ordered in July. Carbon gas vangs make a great addition to the furling boom package, though if you’d prefer to keep your existing one, Southern Spars will offer you a 5% discount on the price of your boom instead.
Posted on 29 Jun