Cyber Security – Invisible Pirates?

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Until recently the biggest concern in terms of an attack on shipping was from armed pirates scaling the hull to either kidnap the crew or steal the cargo. Now there is a new much more insidious threat – that of the cyber-attack with the ability to do everything from stealing data to changing the course of a ship, and possibly combining with traditional pirates to steal the cargo as well.

Cyber security may be right at the top of the international agenda. Although, like most things cyber – shipping has not taken it particularly seriously until recently. The International Maritime Bureau warned that shipping is becoming the “next playground for hackers”. It has gone from being an issue that was barely mentioned in shipping circles two years ago to one that is now at the top of the agenda for senior executives across the industry.

The US’ Global Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the nation’s Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and lawmakers for failing to address cyber security despite the fact that its ports handle at least $1.3trn worth of cargo every year. “The operations of these ports are supported by information and communication systems, which are susceptible to cyber-related threats,” the report stated.

The report went on to highlight the possible directions from any given cyber-threat could spring, listing hackers – who “break into networks for the thrill of the challenge, bragging rights in the hacker community, revenge, stalking, monetary gain, and political activism,” and who could “download attack scripts and protocols from the Internet and launch them against victim sites”, alongside organised crime syndicates, rival logistics firms, disgruntled employees, other nations, and – of course – terrorists, who could “destroy, incapacitate, or exploit critical infrastructures in order to threaten national security, cause mass casualties, weaken the economy, and damage public morale.”

“Until the Coast Guard completes a thorough assessment of cyber risks in the maritime environment, the ability of stakeholders to appropriately plan and allocate resources to protect ports and other maritime facilities will be limited.”

Source: Seatrade Magazine

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