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Web Alert: Analysis of Black Sea GPS spoofing incidents reveals patterns

29 September 2017

A recent article in The Maritime Executive provides a fascinating new insight into the widely reported GPS spoofing events in the Black Sea.

Spoofing is a process whereby a GPS is made to display false information deliberately without the knowledge of the user. Whilst GPS jamming is equally undesirable, the total loss of GPS service alerts the mariner to the need to navigate with caution. Subtle changes in GPS position over time however (which may occur with spoofing), may catch an unwary navigator off guard, particularly if the navigator is relying too heavily on GPS for navigation.

An investigation by Windward Ltd has revealed two other instances of mass GPS interference in 2017. These instances were discovered after the data from the vessels' Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) were analysed. Remarkably, all three instances of mass GPS spoofing involved airports.

In these spoofing incidents, the positions displayed by GPS were obviously false. Vessels appeared to be significant distances away from their actual positions and in implausible locations, such as on land. Whilst easy to spot on those occasions, mariners should not be complacent.

Full details of the research done by Windward Ltd and advice on alternative position fixing systems in the area are available in the article

Precautions and considerations
Members should ensure that:

  1. navigators are aware of the differences between spoofing and jamming
  2. navigators use a variety of methods to monitor the ship's position, enabling them to critically compare the different sensors:
    • Radar Image Overlay on ECDIS
    • visual bearings/radar ranges plotted on ECDIS / paper charts
    • use of additional position fixing systems such as Chayka (dependant on area). This is especially effective if it could be combined with ECDIS secondary track functions (dependant on brand)
  3. navigators are capable of navigating without the GPS. For paperless ships this means:
    • being able to use DR mode on the ECDIS efficiently
    • being able to fix the ship's position on ECDIS
  4. navigators have an understanding which items of equipment have a GPS input and what impact GPS spoofing/jamming will have on them.