Image US Navy Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer: Shutterstock

Last week a UK Royal Navy destroyer and Dutch Royal Navy ship safely moored in Odessa, Ukraine, were spoofed to locations off-shore of a Russian naval base on Crimea.

This week it was a US Navy ship moored in the same port that was spoofed.

These are interesting cases in several ways.

First, how was it done?

  • No other vessels seem to have been impacted. So this is much different from the wide-area spoofing the Russians have long conducted in the area.
  • It could have been highly targeted GPS spoofing that only impacted the three ships. But the three ships were in port alongside a pier.  Did they even have their GPS and AIS activated?
  • It could be that GPS spoofing had nothing to do with it and just AIS signals were imitated and detected by satellites.
  • Its possible that the AIS equipment aboard the three ships was programmed by the ships’ crews to transmit the false information.

Second, who did it?

  • The Russians are clearly capable of doing this. They have regularly spoofed large numbers of vessels in the Black Sea over the last five years. This was a bit different as only one or two vessels were impacted, but it is not that big an additional challenge
  • The NATO (UK, Dutch, US) crews could have done it. They certainly had access to the equipment and the ability to do it.
  • Could have been a third party. Perhaps a bit more of a challenge than for the other folks, but not a particularly heavy lift for a reasonably competent RF hacker.

Third, why was it done?

  • If it was the Russians, likely yet another demonstration of their impressive electronic warfare capability and to show dominance over the West
  • It it was the NATO ship crews, perhaps it was a way of nettling the Russians without the trouble of having to actually sail by. Or trying to confuse them with a feint. The UK ship, HMS Defender, actually sailed something close to the spoofed route several days later and was harassed by Russian forces. – Will be interesting to see if the US Navy ship does the same.
  • If it was a third party, perhaps it was just to cause confusion, hate, and discontent. In the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” the super-villian spoofs a Royal Navy ship into Chinese waters to provoke an armed conflict. See clip on our YouTube channel here.

Interesting to see life imitating art 24 years later.