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The maritime industry forms an integral part of our critical national infrastructure as our daily life depends on it to function properly. It is one of the core channels for global trade, with a staggering 80 per cent of goods by volume transported between countries in this way. Globally in 2016, this accounted for a total of 10.3bn tonnes moved between seaports[1].

And its relevance is only set to grow. By the end of the decade, it is expected that the world’s first autonomous container ship will have embarked on its maiden voyage, moving goods around Norway’s coastline. This will mark a new era of connected shipping technology, providing further evidence that the $210bn industry is beginning to embrace the future.

Security of vessels vulnerable to cyberattack
While benefitting from the continuing advancements in technology, there are very real concerns that the maritime sector is more vulnerable than ever to cyberattack. Researchers have demonstrated proof of concept attacks against some of the most common maritime systems, and there is evidence of navigational computers being infected with malware by a USB stick being used for system upgrades[2].

The potential impact of a cyberattack in the maritime industry is highly worrying. From data theft and system downtime, to taking control of a ship’s navigational system and changing its course, a cyberattack could lead to significant monetary losses, or even the theft of physical assets onboard vessels by pirates.

The problem is that the nature of the shipping industry means it is also incredibly challenging to mitigate such risks. Every ship is unique. There is little standardisation of on-board control systems and a high mix of legacy systems, many of which were not even designed with security in mind. This is making it near impossible to roll out uniform security measures across multiple ships.

Propelling maritime security into the future
Vessels are essentially complex industrial control systems, but floating ones. This means that many of the principles that are recommended for security within Operational Technology (OT) environments also apply here. A risk management approach is crucial, which begins with identifying the systems, data and interfaces that are unprotected and pose the greatest risk if compromised. Furthermore, security teams must understand how to protect them and mitigate the consequences of a successful attack.

In the maritime context, this means securing devices and networks by closing unused data ports and ensuring full network segregation between OT and IT systems. Importantly crew systems, such as terminals for entertainment or personal email, should be kept independent from everything else. This is because one of the primary threats remains inadvertent infection via a flash drive or email attachment, meaning better staff training is also imperative.

Going forward, adding new technologies to a network must also be done with due care, and in accordance with a ‘secure by design’ ethos. This involves the consideration of cybersecurity from the outset of system implementation, including identifying the security credentials of new technology being installed, and ensuring systems are integrated and utilised in a secure manner.

One of the best ways, however, to improve resilience to cyberattacks and harden maritime networks is to work with partners who are developing the expertise needed through experience. The maritime industry is starting to reap the rewards of improved automation and data services, but it cannot do it securely alone.

Story Source: Applied Risk
Author: Jalal Bouhdada