Why is Maritime at such risk from cyberattacks?

The reliance…. on digital systems presents the maritime industry as an ‘easy target’ for cybercriminals
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By Maya Nelson
Guest Contributor

In the age of evolving technology, the risk of cyberattacks has increased. But why specifically is the maritime industry under such threat?

The growth of automation and the use of AI within the maritime industry represents the start of a new era in which more vessels and ports are integrating increasingly advanced technology into their systems. However, this rapid growth in the use of new technology within the maritime industry, coupled with sometimes insufficient understanding and forethought regarding cybersecurity, puts the maritime industry at great risk of cyberattacks.

Only around a third of the maritime industry are confident that their cybersecurity for their organisation’s Operational Technology (OT), which manages, monitors and controls safety and navigation, is as robust at their IT cybersecurity.

The reliance of OT and fleet operations on digital systems presents the maritime industry as an ‘easy target’ for cybercriminals. Due to the digitalisation of a vessel’s communication systems, navigation suites, cargo management and engine monitoring and control, there are many areas in which an attacker can exploit weaknesses and instigate a cyberattack. As such, it is crucial to identify the areas most susceptible to cyberattacks in order to minimise or mitigate the risk.

In understanding the industry’s vulnerabilities that lead to cyberattacks, it is relevant to explore the different types of cyberattacks. In recent years, every industry has seen an increase in the number of ransomware attacks. These are incidents in which a cyber-attacker holds either personal or company data, navigation systems or management systems hostage in return for a demand, often a form of payment. In the maritime industry, ransomware attacks can threaten a vessel’s operations by compromising the vessel’s internal systems and data.

Another concept posing a threat to shipping is the use of social engineering. This refers to the techniques that are utilised to exploit human vulnerabilities, leading individuals to expose specific information or conduct a task allowing the attacker access to systems of data for illegitimate reasons. A common example of this is phishing: a scam where the attacker impersonates someone else in order to gain access to information or lead the individual to downloading malware.

There are two common examples of phishing: email phishing and voice phishing. Email phishing often includes a link which either allows the attacker to access personal or confidential information or access to internal systems. Voice phishing often refers to the attacker calling and impersonating someone of relevance to the victim. Social engineering in reference to voice phishing can include researching past or present employees and leveraging that data to gain access. Regarding the maritime industry, phishing is often used to trick crew members or personnel into revealing sensitive information or credentials.

Another factor that increases the risk of voice phishing is the development of AI. With the advancements in AI, people are more susceptible to being called and met with a voice that they recognise, an AI generated voice of someone significant to them. This can increase the risk of a cyberattack within the maritime industry; for example, attackers could impersonate the coast guard, port officials or ship inspectors and deceive crew members into releasing sensitive information.

A key part of reducing or mitigating the risks associated with cybersecurity is awareness of cyberthreats within the maritime industry. Firstly, a lack of cybersecurity awareness among crews, employees and contractors leaves the maritime industry susceptible to cyberattacks as the identification of suspicious or potentially malicious activity isn’t flagged at an early stage. To mitigate this issue, cybersecurity training is needed to raise awareness about the appropriate procedures for identifying and responding to cyberthreats; this training should also be regularly updated to account for the evolving nature of cyberattacks.

Another key challenge is the connectivity between internal systems in a port or vessel. This presents a high risk for the maritime industry as the interconnectivity between systems facilitates an unchecked avenue for hackers to exploit. Additionally, if one device on a vessel or at a port is compromised, this can lead to all the systems or devices being vulnerable. To minimise or mitigate these risks, it is appropriate to implement segmented networks to ensure that critical systems aren’t susceptible to cyberthreats as a result of lesser devices.

Additionally, implementing threat detection and cyber-security measures such as firewall software can also minimise the risks associated with cyberattacks; this allows for the network to be monitored, increasing the likelihood of identifying suspicious or malicious activity.

By implementing preventative measures, organisations can successfully minimise or mitigate the risks of cyberattacks. Also, by constructing a methodical and rigorous risk assessment plan addressing the cyber threats faced by the maritime industry, companies are able to reduce the risk of compromising sensitive data, minimising the damage to reputations caused by a cyber crisis.

Smart thinking about cyber can protect your vessels – and the global fleet.

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