Image Credit: Geonius TM from Geollect

The UK gave today a defence intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine referring to the analysis by Geollect which indicates that since 14 May 2023, commercial vessel´s Automatic Identification System (AIS) data has been remotely spoofed to create the impression of a 65m long Russian pro-war Z symbol on the Black Sea, visible on open source tracking software.

The DefenceHQ, the official corporate news channel of the UK Ministry of Defence, said tracks making up the image suggested vessel speeds of up to 102 knots (188 km per hour), further suggesting they were fake.

“Pro-Russian actors likely conducted the spoofing as an information operation, potentially in an attempt to bolster Russian morale ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counter offensive,” as mentioned.

And it warned: “The spoofing of AIS increases the risk of maritime accidents.”

Despite Russian virtual information operations in the Black Sea, its physical navy remains vulnerable, the UK believes.

The Ivan Khurs intelligence-gathering vessel was likely attacked on 24 May 2023, also said.

Geollect, a UK & USA market leading geospatial intelligence and data analysis firm reports that it is almost certain that many commercial vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) data is being remotely spoofed to create the pro-Russian war ‘Z’ symbol in the vicinity of (IVO) Russian-occupied Crimea.

“This is highly likely a deliberate information operation by a pro-Russian actor (possibly Russian military psychological operations) ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counter offence and/or in celebration of Russia’s proclaimed victory over Bakhmut,” mentions Geollect in its analysis.

This pattern started to emerge from May 14. Vessel speeds were recorded as high as 102 knots with no variation for tide and weather, clearly suggesting spoofing.

Geollect mentions in its analysis that the user is almost certainty using radio frequency signals to mimic a true signal, causing the signal from the vessel to display false information.

“It is almost certain that this has been done remotely without the knowledge or consent of the vessels given the disconnect between vessel types, flags, ownership, or insurers.”

Geollect warned that spoofing of AIS data increases the risk of vessel collisions and accidents operating in this area.

“It is likely this is designed to increase pro-Russian audiences’ morale, as well as antagonise Ukrainian and NATO audiences. The message seems clear: ‘Crimea is Russian’,” it argued.