Category Archives: e-Navigation

Iranian AIS “spoofing”?

Recent reports (here, here and here) say that Iranian tankers are transmitting “false” AIS data in order to try to evade sanctions on trade. Reading the press reports, it’s kind of confusing what is actually being “spoofed” and whether they are even referring to AIS. This article from Reuters (linked through the always-informative gCaptain) says “AIS” but the description is more appropriate to LRIT: “sending incorrect satellite signals that confuse global tracking systems” and “Large vessels must transmit their identity and location to other ships and coastal authorities using an automatic satellite communication system.”  There’s a bit of confusion in the article beyond what actual tracking system is being used. One quote implies the ship’s GPS can falsify its identity: “a ship could get its Global Positioning System (GPS) to give false data, including pretending to be another vessel.” GPS only provides position data, not identity. It is either the AIS equipment or LRIT system on board that provides identity (which as correctly noted in the article is input by the crew and can be fairly easily altered). The article includes a false statement: “However, another piece of identification data, the IMO [number], can’t be changed, and that, too, is sent with every message on position, which enabled vessel-tracking experts to detect that signals came from two different ships.” The IMO number can indeed be changed in the AIS static and voyage-related message (not the position report, which doesn’t include the IMO number). So it’s just as “spoofable” as the MMSI, vessel name, dimensions and all the other information that is manually entered in the AIS.

This article uses the term “AIS” and says “…Iranian tankers [are] sending false AIS signals and somehow being in two places at the same time” but there is little more information. If “being in the same place at the same time” due to duplicate MMSIs being transmitted is suspicious behavior, then there are a lot of suspicious vessels out there. Many vessels are transmitting bogus MMSIs in their AIS messages, unintentionally either through laziness (entering “123456789,” “111111111” or something else rather than the actual MMSI), honest mistake (transposing or forgetting to enter digits), or a fault with the AIS equipment itself (the infamous 1193046 is the default MMSI for a certain type of unit that is reset when the unit is power cycled.).

Both of these articles are written from the perspective of external (i.e. shore-based) systems that collect data and create vessel tracks. From nearby vessels it is not a huge safety issue (except if vessels are attempting to hail each other to make passing arrangements and one of the vessels’ name is falsified). It is also readily apparent the information is incorrect when the vessels are in sight.

To a certain extent, this incident validates an argument made in the early days of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Many were arguing that LRIT, AIS and other tracking measures were redundant and that only one or two capabilities should be focused upon. Others argued that with multiple systems, there was more opportunity for “bad guys” to make errors – e.g., “spoof” an incorrect MMSI but neglect to change the IMO number to match it (as appears to be the case here). This actually makes detecting spoofing easier, as such anomalies would stand out (unless of course it’s so complicated that every vessel, legitimate or not, can’t help but make mistakes).

In any event it is clear that AIS is no panacea, and that those unfamiliar with the technology and its use can easily misunderstand the implications of incorrect data – whether intentionally transmitted or otherwise. It’s good to see that the potential “spoofing” was detected and there ought to be additional efforts dedicated to analysis of AIS data – in conjunction with other information – to detect problems, sinister or otherwise. Finally, as AIS technology matures and “next generation” AIS is developed, security and data integrity need to be addressed, as Kurt Schwehr has noted. I hope to look into this some more in future blog posts.

I delayed updating my iPhone 4s to iOS 6 as I had heard complaints about the new Maps app. Apparently Apple has created their own and gone away from the original Google Maps-based app. However, my compulsion to keep my software updated overruled my reluctance, and I upgraded and found it wasn’t that bad. The car-GPS-like directions are pretty cool, and I haven’t had some of the problems I had feared, such as lack of points of interest. I haven’t used it too much, so we’ll see how it works once I travel some more and use it in places I’m unfamiliar with to try to find things.

"Patomic Park"

One problem I have noticed (that is a real howler IMHO) is the misidentification of a place that is fairly well-known and documented (see image at right). “East Patomic Park” is how it shows up in the new Maps app; right next to the “Potomac River.”

I’m really scratching my head how this could happen, as it’s not a new park – it’s spelled correctly on the USGS topographic map (image below) which was compiled in 1965 (and updated in 1983, though not the park). I thought most digital map data was taken from these sources as well as drawn from public map databases, such as those maintained by USGS, NOAA, Census and others.USGS Potomac Park

For what it’s worth, here’s what the same area looks like in Google Maps (since I don’t have the old Maps app anymore):

Google Maps Potomac Park

So, what does this have to do with e-Navigation and ECDIS (the supposed topic of this blog, or this post, at least)? Well, I think it illustrates one of the main challenges that will be faced in the implementation of e-Navigation. One would think that relatively minor issues such as this would have been worked out by now – the locations haven’t changed in many years, electronic maps have been around for a couple of decades at least, and with the ability to cross check multiple data sources errors like this shouldn’t last long. But they still do, apparently.

This should cause concern for those who seek to implement e-Navigation. End users (navigators, VTS officers, dispatchers, regulators, etc.) need to rely on the information that is being presented to them. They way to do this is through a well-thought out data architecture that needs to include common data formats and identification of authoritative sources. The authoritative sources, or “data stewards,” need to ensure the data they are responsible for is correct and there is a means for flagging incorrect data and pushing updates in a prompt manner.

Much easier said than done, I know, but fortunately there are concerted efforts to tackle this problem. Internationally, the e-Navigation Architecture is a key part of IMO e-Navigation development. In the US, the Federal Initiative for Navigation Data Enhancement (FINDE) is working on US-specific data architecture efforts. This is the least “sexy” work there is in e-Navigation, however I contend it is the most important. Since the definition of e-Navigation is “harmonized [management and exchange] of navigation information,” the integrity of that information is of paramount importance.

eNavigation 2012 – Consider the following…

In preparation for the eNavigation 2012 conference in Seattle, WA 6-7 November 2012, you are asked to consider the following questions:

  1. What operational or business challenges do you currently face that e-navigation could solve? 
  2. What do you see as the role of the Federal Government in e-navigation? 
  3. What e-Navigation solution(s) should the Federal Government pursue as its highest priority? 
  4. What is the most effective way for the Federal Government to collaborate with the maritime industry on the development of e-navigation policies and services?

If you attend the conference (and I strongly urge you to do so), please give some consideration to these questions and provide your input during the discussion periods. Feel free to comment here as well.

River Information Services (RIS) webinar – 02 November 2012

River Information Services – Basics of RIS and Plans for U.S. Implementation — A Live ASCE Webinar

RIS Wheel (courtesy via donau)

Date: Fri., Nov. 2, 2012
Time: 12 Noon – 1 PM ET
Registration ends on October 30

Register Here

River Information Services (RIS) is defined as “the harmonized information services to support traffic and transport management in inland navigation, including interfaces to other transport modes. RIS aim at contributing to a safe and efficient transport process and utilizing the inland waterways to their fullest extent.” RIS has been implemented and used for years in Europe and elsewhere, but in the U.S., the extensive network of inland waterways has not been managed as a system. A variety of RIS-like services with these aims exist, but they are provided by various government agencies and industry with varying degrees of harmonization. This webinar will present the basics concepts of RIS, including basic services and technologies. It will also discuss the plans for RIS implementation in the US and its relationship with e-Navigation.

Webinar topics:

  • Learn the basics of RIS and what it means for your job
  • Learn how your business or agency can participate in and benefit from the U.S. RIS implementation
  • Understand the RIS roles of the Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, and NOAA
  • Identify opportunities for navigation services
  • Each attendee earns 1.0 Professional Development Hour (1 PDH)

Cost: $249 ASCE Members/$299 non-members
Registrations must be received three days prior to the webinar date or a $25 late registration fee will be assessed.
Special Offer on Webinars: Individuals and Small Organizations (Less than Five Engineers) save $100 on the Registration Fee – Just Use Promo Code LESS10 when registering.

Webinar Instructor
Brian J. Tetreault is a Navigation Systems Specialist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. He previously served 22 years on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard. During his Coast Guard career he served aboard two icebreakers and a fisheries patrol cutter and held several staff positions dealing with waterways management and navigation systems.

eNavigation 2012: Defining the solutions

The 12th annual e-Navigaton conference in Seattle, WA is fast approaching. I encourage you to attend and participate in the development of the e-Navigation concept.

This conference started in 2001 as the AIS conference, and a few years later the organizers recognized that the e-Navigation concept was as little-understood as AIS was at the conception of the first conference, so the name and focus was changed.

This conference is the only one of its type in North America, and probably unique in the world. Attendees include the shipping industry, harbor pilots, government representatives, equipment manufacturers, and many more. It is a fantastic forum for information exchange about e-Navigation developments and they encourage dialog amongst attendees and presenters. The final session of the conference for the past several years has been dedicated to a review and open discussion of the main issues raised.

This year the conference features strong representation and participation of the CMTS e-Navigation Integrated Action Team, an interagency team that is working to implement e-Navigation in the United States. Also, immediately following the conference PIANC is holding the first meeting of its e-Navigation working group.

So come to Seattle in November!