Image: Iranian patrol boat and British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero: Associated Press

Blog Editor’s Note:  Below are a warning published by the US Maritime Administration, and a press report that quotes an unnamed US defense official. Long time readers will discern that there is a bit of confusion in the two reports about what exactly is going on in terms of spoofing (GPS, AIS, or communications?), jamming, and so on. But there is certainly a lot happening.

It should be no surprise that Iran is jamming GPS and perhaps spoofing signals as they have clearly done that before. These are common, easily employed techniques in today’s low intensity warfare. 

This kind of navigation warfare has been going on around the world and in the Persian Gulf for quite some time. The first public report was when Iran bragged about capturing a CIA drone operating in Afghanistan in 2011 by spoofing its GPS receiver.

A couple thoughts on the below reports:

  • The “AIS spoofing” discussed is not the same thing as spoofing GPS signals. AIS is identification equipment carried by a vessel that  can be programmed to report that the vessel is any type the user wishes. So, for example, an Iranian patrol boat can program its AIS to transmit the identification info for a British oil tanker. This might deceive other vessels that aren’t close enough to have a visual on the patrol boat.  
  • A “US defense official” claims that Iran has been “jamming GPS signals” in the hopes ships will wander into their waters. That would not really be effective, and it wouldn’t make sense, since they clearly have the ability to spoof signals. Spoofing could make the ships sail, not wander, into their territorial seas. The folks we have spoken to haven’t seen any signs, yet, of spoofing, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they discover it eventually.
  • We are not sure about the US defense official’s credibility, though, as at the end of the CNN article “The official said the Iranian jammers have no effect on US military warships and aircraft.”  – Yeah, right.

MSCI Advisory

2019-012-Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Red Sea-Threats to Commercial Vessels by Iran

Description:  This revised advisory cancels U.S. Maritime Advisories 2019-004 and 2019-008.

  1. References: U.S. Maritime Alerts 2019-004A, 2019-003A, 2019-002A, and 2019-001A.
  2. Issue: Heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continue to pose serious threats to commercial vessels. Associated with these threats is a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions. Vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman may also encounter GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning.

Since May 2019, the following maritime incidents have occurred in this region:

– Six attacks against commercial vessels (see U.S. Maritime Alerts 2019-002A and 2019-003A);

– Shoot-down of U.S. Navy remotely piloted aircraft over international waters;

– Attempted at-sea interdiction of Isle of Man-flagged M/V BRITISH HERITAGE;

– Seizure of ex-Panama-flagged M/V RIAH;

– Seizure of U.K.-flagged M/V STENA IMPERO (see U.S. Maritime Alert 2019-004A); and

– Detention and subsequent release of Liberian-flagged M/V MESDAR (see U.S. Maritime Alert 2019-004A).

In at least two of these incidents, vessels reported GPS interference. One vessel reportedly shut off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) before it was seized, complicating response efforts. Vessels have also reported spoofed bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be U.S. or coalition warships.

READ MORE

US government warns of Iranian threats to commercial shipping, including GPS interference

Updated 7:29 PM ET, Wed August 7, 2019

(CNN)The US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration has issued a new warning to commercial shipping about Iranian threats in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, saying that some ships have reported having their GPS interfered with.

Additionally, the administration warned that there have been reports of “unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships.”
The warning, which was issued Wednesday, listed a series of incidents involving Iran since May, including Iran’s seizure of the United Kingdom-flagged M/V STENA IMPERO and the detention and subsequent release of the Liberian-flagged M/V MESDAR.
It said that during “at least two” recent encounters involving Iranian military forces, “vessels reported GPS interference. One vessel reportedly shut off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) before it was seized, complicating response efforts.”
“Vessels have also reported spoofed bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships,” the warning added.
US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the region, issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Vessels have reported GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning.”
“The U.S. remains committed to working with allies and regional partners to safeguard the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, and the protection of U.S. vessels and personnel in this region,” the statement added.
A US defense official told CNN that Iran has placed GPS jammers on Iran-controlled Abu Musa Island, which lies in the Persian Gulf close to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.
The official said that Iran had placed the jammers at that location in an attempt to disrupt civilian aircraft and ship navigation systems, hoping ships or planes will mistakenly wander into Iranian waters or airspace while their GPS systems were not functioning properly, giving Iranian forces the pretext needed to seize them.
The official said the Iranian jammers have no effect on US military warships and aircraft.
The official said that Iranian military boats have been “spoofing” the automatic identification system merchant ships use to report and disguise their vessels as merchant ships instead of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Iranian Navy vessels.
Brad P

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