Lately, we've seen how hackers can cause havoc on the high seas, but the shenanigans have been limited to security researchers for the most part. They wanted to prove that it was possible to do things like take over a ship's navigation system so that it doesn't happen in real life. Welp, too late for that now.

An Iranian ship recently made itself essentially disappear after hacking into its own Automatic Identification System (AIS), perhaps to get around international sanctions. Said vessel, the crude oil tanker Ramtin (formerly known as Volga), left port in Iran earlier this month on its way towards Singapore. However, on the way, its Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) inexplicably changed to match that of a much smaller tanker, Hamodo K. As the maritime blog gCaptain points out, this is shady:

The Ramtin still has its same IMO number, but its MMSI number is now that of the Hamoda K, a vessel which is not on the OFAC blacklist. This “sharing” of identity, together with the close proximity in time of the operations, appears to indicate that the Hamoda K is being manipulated to disguise Ramtin’s activities near Malaysia.

Indeed, the Ramtin is operated by Tabuk Maritime, a company that is sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).


It sounds like the vessel was up to no good. Authorities believe that the Ramtin hacked into its own AIS and nabbed an identify from a similar however unsanctioned ship. We've known that this sort of thing was possible for at least a couple weeks now, after some security researchers reported on how vulnerable the AIS infrastructure was.

So now, maritime authorities have some real motivation to bolster the security of ship tracking systems. Skirting around sanctions to sell crude oil is one thing, but there's quite obviously a more worrisome scenario that would involve things like the international weapons trade. And hey, if Iran (the country that tapes its drones together) can do it, anyone can. [gCaptain]


Image via Flickr / MrHicks46