Here’s a Fun Exploit for Hackers Who Really Want to be Pirates

Now you see that oil tanker, and now you don't.

How droll! (Trend Micro)

How droll! (Trend Micro)

Between the Internet of Things and the proliferation of GPS tracking, we’re finding all kinds of new ways to hack big, dumb objects wandering the real world. The latest discovery: The MIT Technology Review reports that researchers at Trend Micro have figured out that with a little Internet-enabled skullduggery, it’s possible to disappear container ships or make it look like a fleet of tankers is converging on Savannah.

The group tinkered with the Automatic Identification System, which is used by something like 400,000 ships worldwide and required in vessels over a certain size. Turns out, because it doesn’t require much authentication, you can buy a (pricey) piece of AIS equipment, plug into a computer somewhere near a port and start intercepting the real signals and replacing them with your own, false ones.

“We were really able to compromise this system from the root level,” one researcher told the MIT Technology Review. Nothing happens to the ships themselves, but hackers can wreak havoc on the reliability of various mapping services that pull data from the system. Researchers make it look like there was a ship off Italy whose course plotted the word “PWNED.” Cute.

Someone with less benign intentions could fake out a near-collision, false emergency alarms or otherwise gum up the logistical works.

This seems right up dispatch-service-obsessed Jack Dorsey’s alley. Watch him hack the system and make the ships sailing o’er the oceans etch the outlines of his best selfie face.