Maritime Sector Faces Unique Cyber Threat

Insurers have been told the threat to the ports and shipping sectors posed by cyber risk is unlike any other industry in the world.

Speaking to the Insurance Institute of London in Lloyd’s Professor Kevin Jones of the University of Plymouth warned the threat was not only real but also increasing.

The rising level of technology on a vessel’s bridge only increases the vulnerability to cyber-attack and enhanced technology was also changing the face of piracy.

Prof. Jones said: “When we started looking at cyber security at sea people simply put their fingers n their ears to drown out the discussion. Things have improved in recent years.”

Currently the maritime sector is seeing cases of GPS “spoofing” in which ships navigation systems are being tricked into believing the vessel is miles from its actual position.

It is believed Russian president Vladimir Putin’s travel is surrounded by spoofing technology to protect his positions but it has resulted in vessels being impacted and suddenly being told that they are actually miles inland rather than at sea.

“In many respects it is worse that if the navigation systems actually ceased operating. If something is broken you can take steps to manage the problem. But if you are at a point where you cannot trust the system and what it is telling you it becomes in some ways far more difficult.”

“Today’s cruise vessels have a similar level of cyber system as a small town and that does not include the systems that passenger will bring on board,” he explained.

The other issue for the maritime market is the changing dynamics for vessels form day to day or week to week.

“When you undertake a survey of a factory to test its cyber weaknesses, once it is completed little will change. You cannot say that of a vessel which will change both its location and crew regularly and with it the threats it faces also change.”

Prof. Jones warned that those seeking to access ships systems could look to port workers in an area where $100 is considered a significant sum and get them to plug a memory stick into the vessel’s systems on the bridge and such is the transient nature in some areas of the planet that there would be no shortage of takers to carry out the task.

He added that the ability to access a vessel’s route data, cargo information and on board systems made could be used to enable piracy gangs to dramatically reduce their risks.

“If they know the route, they can plan where best to intercept the vessel and can access the navigation systems to in effect fool the vessel into coming to exactly where they need to it be,” he explained. “They will know exactly what the vessel is carrying where the high value cargo is and with the GPS spoofed even a call for help will send any naval support to a position some miles away from where the vessel actually is.”

The rising level of technology on a vessel’s bridge only increases the vulnerability to cyber-attack. 

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