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[Interview] Ami Daniel, CEO & Co-Founder, Windward Ltd.

Security on the high seas and cyber technology are hot topics these days. Here's a conversation with one of the leaders in the field.

By MarEx 2014-06-10 12:49:00

Ami Daniel (R) and Matan Peled, co-founders of Windward.

By Kayla Turner

KT: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background.

AD: My passion for all things maritime started at a young age and was cultivated during seven years as an officer in the Israeli Navy, where I met Windward’s co-founder, Matan Peled, who was the commander of a patrol ship. My entrepreneurial interests began at the age of 16 when I co-established a community center. Later I co-founded an NGO to empower underprivileged youth in Israel. I’ve been fortunate to be able to bring my two passions – entrepreneurship and maritime – together with our founding of Windward in 2010.

KT: Tell our readers what Windward does.

AD: Windward is the world leader in satellite-based, predictive maritime analytics. We bring the power of smart analytics to the two-thirds of the world that has been a kind of “Wild West” until now – the oceans. With the advent of satellite technology – and the explosion in satellite data starting around 2009 – it’s now possible to know the whereabouts of vessels globally. But the amount of data is vast and often corrupted. It’s therefore largely meaningless without smart analytics.

Windward analyzes all the vessel data worldwide – 100 million data points per day (and growing) – and validates the data to correct for any hacking or GPS manipulation. It then creates a behavioral profile of each vessel through a combination of smart analytics and our in-house team of experts. As a result, Windward is able to quickly detect any anomalous behaviors – such as a suspicious ship-to-ship joining, vessels taking a particularly circuitous route, or ships traveling uneconomical and suspicious routes – and immediately alert our clients.

Our first product, MarInt, was developed with the needs of intelligence communities in mind and has been widely adopted by this very demanding, high-stakes sector. This early success made it clear that Windward’s DNA – examining every bit and byte and combining deep shipping domain expertise with big data analytics – provides unprecedented knowledge and insight to anyone interested in vessel activity across the oceans.

KT: What do you have to say about the current buzz of ship trackers being vulnerable to hacking?

AD: AIS was a breakthrough solution when it was launched 12 years ago. It was designed to enhance safety at sea and became the industry standard for ship tracking. However, AIS protocol and onboard transmitters were designed to avoid ship collisions, not track ships. So they are not encrypted, nor are there secure transmissions. This creates two serious problems:

Vessels are able to tamper with their own transmissions to conceal their actual identities, locations and activities, and

Since the reception of the transmissions is “crowd-sourced” by thousands of independent receiver operators connected to the Internet (and a few global satellite operators), any sensor can be hacked or corrupted and data inserted.

Today, nearly every entity – from shipping companies to large corporations to commodity traders to security organizations – tracks vessels at sea through AIS. As a result, decision-makers across industries are relying – unwillingly and unknowingly – on faulty AIS data, which presents a huge and growing financial and security risk. Looking forward, the trend is heading towards a dramatic increase in AIS tampering, given the stakes at play from both a security and financial perspective.  

The solution? Using AIS big data intelligently. At Windward we put AIS data through rigorous cyber algorithms to ensure its validity and overcome fraud. Windward’s cyber technology – the first of its kind globally – automatically flags and corrects AIS corruption and potential fraud. This includes identity fraud, the manipulation of position/kinematic data, and intentional manipulations of data sources or servers. The cyber-validated data can then be used to support decision-making across industries.

KT: What sparked the idea of including a prediction analysis?

AD: From the get-go we understood the real value of Windward was in analyzing the vast global movement of vessels and identifying when a specific ship or group of ships was showing unexpected “behavior.”

Given the number of vessels at sea, the kinds of threats ships can present (from illegal fishing to terrorist activity to theft and smuggling), and the ease with which nearly anyone can “hack” the AIS system, there is great interest from a whole host of sectors in getting a real picture of what’s happening, and what’s coming their way, across the seas.

KT: Have you identified any trends in vessel tracking?

AD: Some ships have a strong financial interest in hiding their location and disguising their activities. While this phenomenon was originally practiced mostly by criminal entities involved in illegal shipping and trafficking of goods, the wide use of AIS led to this phenomenon being expanded significantly. As just one example, AIS hacking has now been used by shipping and commercial organizations attempting to gain a competitive edge in the commodities market.

KT: What's next for Windward?

AD: Windward’s key differentiator is the combination of smart analytics and extensive shipping expertise, and we will be constantly expanding and refining our global shipping domain knowledge by working with top-level experts in the field. In addition, Windward will be focusing on continuing to develop and deepen its cyber technologies. It’s a real “cat and mouse” game out there, and significant and persistent investment is needed in order to stay ahead of ever-changing hacking methods and trends.

KT: Any final thoughts for our readers?

AD: The maritime world has seen an explosion of data in recent years and is one of the last domains to go through this change. However, we are only at the beginning of this process, and the major implications have yet to come. In more ways than one we are witnessing possibly the biggest modern-day change in maritime domain history, and we perceive this domain as continuously changing and evolving.

Today’s pioneering and cutting-edge technologies will become the industry standard not too far from now and forever change the way we understand the global trade economy. These are exciting times, and we are more than happy to be at the forefront. – MarEx

Kayla Turner is Digital News Editor of The Maritime Executive.