Protecting Maritime Vessels from Cyberattacks

Cyberattack illustration overlaid on world map

The U.S. Coast Guard has warned that the shipping industry is particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, which pose a serious concern for maritime logistics. Two incidents occurring in 2019 highlight the vulnerabilities oceangoing vessels now face:

February 2019
The Coast Guard reported that a vessel bound for the Port of New York and New Jersey experienced a cyberattack that significantly impacted their shipboard network. An investigation by a team of maritime cybersecurity experts found that the vessel was operating without appropriate cybersecurity measures in place.

July 2019
The Navigation Center of Excellence reported that a U.S. vessel arriving to a dock in Shanghai experienced a pattern of GPS signal losses that could not be traced to a hardware issue. The vessel master believes GPS jamming is the culprit.

These are not isolated incidents. The cyberattack problem is becoming so serious that experts are recommending a return to traditional navigation methods rather than relying on electronic navigation aids.

What Makes Ships Vulnerable to Cyber Threats?

Several factors put oceangoing ships at an especially high risk for cyberattacks.

Outdated Computer Systems
Oceangoing vessels are designed to operate for many years. Many older ships have outdated computer systems that make them vulnerable to malware attacks.

Dynamic Personnel
A vessel’s crew may change at short notice, forcing inexperienced personnel to operate a computer system they aren’t familiar with.

Excessive Connectivity
Many shipping companies now track all their ships in real time. If criminals defeat the land-based infrastructure that makes this possible, they can feed false information to an entire fleet.

Many experts predict that semi- or fully autonomous vessels will soon be able to deliver cargo around the world. These ships could be vulnerable to cyberattacks if the maritime industry cannot improve its approach to cybersecurity.

Sailing in the Right Direction

Shipping companies and governing bodies are taking electronic interference threats to commercial vessels seriously. Both the ISPS and the ISM will implement improved maritime cybersecurity recommendations in 2021.

When faced with a serious threat like cyberattacks, it’s tempting to make rapid, sweeping changes to regulations and best practices. While the concerns are immediate, rushing into a solution is a mistake—slow and steady progress is the best way to go. Global Shipping Services remains committed to the highest level of security in all freight forwarding endeavors, and we’ll update our practices and technology as necessary to keep your cargo safe against any digital threat.

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