Cyber Security Is Crucial For Maritime Shipping

The global economy relies heavily on maritime transport as the majority of international trade is conducted via the sea. A delay in shipping can lead to severe financial loss, especially for firms higher up in the distribution channel and it is this heavy reliance makes the maritime transport industry an appealing target for cyber criminals.

In fact, the maritime industry is now facing an increasing number of new threats and regulatory requirements as it undergoes digital transformation. 

Widespread digitalisation has brought many benefits to shippingCritical vessel systems required for the safety of navigation, power supply and cargo management are increasingly digitised and connected to the Internet to perform a wide range of legitimate functions.

  • Seafarers can call home more easily and frequently. 
  • Port management systems are now much smarter.
  • Digital navigation tools are improving voyage times and reducing emissions. 
  • Vessels are increasingly integrated with onshore operations. 
  • Digital communications are used to conduct business, manage operations, and keep in touch with office managers. 

Shipping’s increased reliance on digital systems has also created new vulnerabilities. Some of these are relatively easy to fix. Paper charts and working knowledge of a sextant have guided mariners for centuries, and can fully overcome any ECDIS failure. Others are both harder to detect and less easily fixed. For example, criminals are using GPS jamming to help them to plunder cargoes. Similarly, the technology needed to spoof, or deceive a vessel as to its actual location, is inexpensive and easy to find online. Should a hacker be able to access a ship’s digital core, it could prevent any internet-enabled activity and ship without the ability to communicate could quickly be deemed ‘off hire’ by a charterer.

Maritime cyber security is concerned with the protection of IT systems, onboard hardware and sensors and data leak from unauthorised access, manipulation and disruption. Unfortunately, effective cyber security measures are not keeping pace with the threats the industry faces. 

Recent Major Incidents

  • Naval Dome, an Israeli a maritime cyber defence company, estimates there had been a 400% growth in attempted attacks on maritime targets between February and June 2020. 
  • A study by the German research institute DLR found interference on GPS frequencies during every phase of a year-long voyage between Europe, the Far East and back.
  • In 2019, the US Guard brought up interference with GPS navigation signals as an “urgent issue” to the UN shipping governing agency, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
  • The social restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus have increased the use of connectivity by OEMs, technicians and others to service ships. This is likely to have increased the possible attack surfaces and number of incidents further still.

Shipowners and operators must now ensure that they are regularly working to improve their risk management and adapting their procedures and processes as the complexity and danger from digital attacks evolves.

The first step to take when updating your cyber risk management is to specify who will be responsible for administering and supervising, and identifying which systems are vulnerable to attack. Once that is complete, risk control processes must be regularly tested, and the lessons learned embedded within ongoing resilience and contingency planning.  

If an owner of a vessel cannot show that it has performed appropriate due diligence in managing its cyber risks in line with the new guidelines, the vessel may be found to be unseaworthy.  Should this happen, it’s likely to jeopardise contracts of carriage and could compromise a shipowner’s ability to rely on the international regulations,to protect their legal and commercial interests. Also,many financing agreements require compliance with the IMO's International Safety Management (ISM) Code. The ISM Code provides welcome standardisation and updates to enhance the safety of ships and the seafarers that crew them and it possible that a breach of the ISM Code could put a borrower in default on his loan contracts.

At present there is a limited cyber insurance market for marine risks but because of the growing number of cyber attacks and the very visible consequences to some of shipping’s biggest companies demand for maritime cyber insurance cover is likely to grow.

Changes introduced by the IMO to deal with cyber risk management came into effect at the beginning of 2021 and require new ways of working, the deployment of new skills and investment in training, equipment and processes.

These changes start with the board: without resolute board leadership, compliance with the standards will not be possible. It is shipping companies and their Directors who are ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessels, and will be required to decide how much and on what to invest to mitigate significant risks. 

Penta Security:       Marine-Digital:      Astaara:     Maritime Executive:       Maritime Executive:    Image: Unsplash

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