Last Updated on August 8, 2023
One look at ships and other sea vessels, and you probably wouldn’t even think they’ll become victims of cyberattacks. However, as satellite communications and industrial control systems continue to grow in popularity and become more widespread in the industry, hackers are tapping into a new playground that is still ripe for their malicious attacks.
With hackers using more sophisticated tactics, it’s almost inevitable that cyberattacks against operational technology on ships are also starting to become a new norm instead of an exception. For this reason, it’s become more important than ever for the maritime industry to scrutinize the different aspects of their ship operations to ensure they remain resilient and protected amidst these rising threats.
Maritime Cybersecurity at a Glance
Maritime cybersecurity involves collecting policies, tools, security safeguards, security concepts, risk management approaches, guidelines, best practices, training, actions, technologies, and assurance to protect maritime organizations, their cyber environment, and their vessels.
Meanwhile, maritime cyber risk pertains to a measure of the extent to which a potential event or circumstance may threaten a technology asset that may cause shipping-related security, safety, or operational features due to compromised, corrupted, or lost systems or information.
Most of the internationally connected infrastructures and networks at sea continue to make the most out of the legacy technologies that weren’t established for internet connection. These intricate networks include the combination of operational technology or OT and information technology or IT systems that third-party vendors and internal crew use. This further extends the possibility of a compromise because of either insider threats or hackers.
Back in the day, vessels had very minimal connectivity, with the ship control engineers dealing with security concerns through air gapping to ensure that a secure network was physically isolated from the unsecured ones.
An air-gapped system can be defined as something that is not connected to the internet and other systems. Today, however, malicious hackers and even novice insiders can infiltrate critical systems and infect them with an unsecured WiFi connection or a USB flash drive. The development is particularly concerning considering how connected modern maritime vessels have become.
The maritime industry is one of the most crucial backbones of the global economy, whether moving liquid or dry bulk, products, chemicals, crude oil, cars, or containers. Protection of the critical operations of the vessel from cyber threats is one of the biggest challenges as operations become increasingly digitalized, operation centers and huge fleets of different vintages and classes spread worldwide, and a complicated environment that merges operational technology with industrial control systems.
Common Cybersecurity Challenges That Affect the Maritime Industry
Most of the common challenges in cybersecurity that affect today’s maritime industry are similar to the ones experienced in other industries dealing with IT networks. These include the following:
- 24/7 remote access is given to third-party OEMs.
- Inadvertently connected OT and IT networks.
- Lack of awareness about cybersecurity among the employees, crew, and contractors.
- Deficiency of real-time segmentation or monitoring of the operational technology network.
- Lack of visibility into the operation technology networks of each vessel.
- Absence of visibility into the third-party OEM networks.
- Lack of clear understanding of the devices and systems on the operational technology network across an operation or fleet.
- Poor physical security controls.
- Use of unsafe wireless networks.
Importance of Cybersecurity in the Maritime Industry
The world economy strongly relies on maritime transit since most global trade happens by sea. Any delay in delivery might lead to substantial financial loss, specifically for enterprises that are further up the distribution chain. Such a high level of dependence is why the maritime shipping business has become one of the most enticing targets for cybercriminals.
With the marine industry constantly undergoing a digital transformation, it also faces more regulatory standards and new challenges. In addition, these are also being used to speed up the industry’s efforts to achieve zero emissions when 2050 comes.
The attacks on July 24, 2017, against the operations of COSCO in Long Beach Port in the United States were significant. The network of the firm was disrupted all of a sudden, instantly shutting down all of the electronic communications all over the US. Since then, the number of ocean-targeted cyberattacks has also grown significantly.
Importance of Cybersecurity on Ships
Today’s maritime industry is trying to speed up its automation and digitalization efforts. The ships have gotten bigger, but the workforce continued to shrink now that more operations have become automated.
Several onboard systems receive updates as they sail, with the teams enjoying internet access. Cybersecurity is crucial for EPIRB, VDR, ECDIS, AIS systems, and other specialized information systems that maritime technologies and ships use onboard. Ships should be ready with heightened security measures because they are extremely vulnerable to cyber threats.
Adequate management of port infrastructure is also essential, which makes it critical to ensure the safety of facilities that need extra security measures.
Importance of Cybersecurity for Ports
To improve their profitability, most port operators have gradually started integrating cybertechnology into their port operations. Sadly, this digitization resulted in a significant vulnerability to rising cyber threats.
For this reason, the port industry needs to keep up with this digitization’s fast-paced advancement and all its risks to maintain profitable and effective operations. This is because even the smallest disruptions will damage the industry’s stakeholders.
Ports rely increasingly on technology to stay competitive, follow certain policies and rules, and maximize their operations. It further increases the complexity and stakes of cybersecurity in operational and information technology fields.
But due to the quick advancement of digitization, many ports are now dealing with cybersecurity issues, some relatively basic and applicable to any OT or IT environment. At the same time, the rest are unique and specific only to port environments.
Considering the bad consequences and hurdles of cyber assaults, ports must develop stringent security measures to protect themselves better.
Techniques to Mitigate Cybersecurity Risks
Cybersecurity risks differ depending on the ship, commerce, operation, and organization. When evaluating risks, businesses must consider their operations and the unique characteristics that might make them more prone to cyberattacks. Remember that most of these data breaches are due to human error, and intensive crew training remains the most effective way to defend against cyberattacks.
All ports face substantial concerns regarding safety and security, especially since most people working in port areas have hazardous jobs. On top of that, ports also need to manage a rather steady and significant traffic flow, including large cruise vessels and ferries.
Port infrastructure might keep sensitive data, including important commercial data such as competitive know-how and content and location of containers, personal documentation including passenger or crew data, and even national security data, with ports being critical assets for any country. Thus, losing any of these can lead to fatal complications.
Businesses should start implementing the measures below to prevent or at least lessen cybersecurity risks:
- Adopt operational and technical safeguards to defend against cyber incidents and ensure business continuity.
- Clearly define key workers’ and users’ responsibilities and roles and sufficient management of onboard and onshore vessels.
- Establish the data, resources, and systems, which, once compromised, can jeopardize the security and functioning of the ship.
What Does the Future Hold for Maritime Cybersecurity?
The lightning-fast advancements in technology have undoubtedly resulted in great benefits for the planet in more ways than one. These paved the way for better businesses, including the shipping or maritime industry.
To guarantee the continued management and functioning of ships and the security and safety of the ship itself, its cargo, and most importantly, its crew, it has become vital to have better interconnection and access to integrated information technology and operation technology systems.
Even though accessibility to the internet and digitalization on a ship has resulted in a long list of exciting perks, these also increased the possibility of cybersecurity attacks and threats, as stated earlier.
By following the different standards the relevant authorities have issued, including BIMCO, the International Maritime Organization, and the United States Coast Guard, shipping companies should take the necessary steps to ensure that their operational resilience and resources will stay safe and protected from cyber hazards. Once they do, it can be safe to say that the maritime industry’s future will be bright.