The maritime industry as a whole is seeing ever increasing data volumes. We hear it all the time with people talking about big data and IoT and of course we talked on the autonomous vessel. One of our small fleet uses nearly a hundred GB every month for example. Ships now have got Wi-Fi, WiMAX, VSAT, FX, 4G, 5G, and all sorts of connectivity. For the average vessel these days they seen an increased data plans and a need to be in almost constant contact with the shore. This means that networks are liberated. It’s no longer the captain and the chief engineer that have access to communications.

With the ability for more people to connect to and from vessels, there also comes the opportunity for those that you do not want to connect, the threat landscape is constantly evolving and we need to stay on the crest of the wave. All I can add about Maersk is that they lost 17 million in 17 minutes.

So, in what ways can a kind of vessel be exploited? The short answer is any other office or home network; things like infected USB sticks, poor vessel security and network security and of course e-mail. The maritime industry sustains 90% of the global transportation and now they are more and more connected. E-mail is the easiest way for bad actors to target a vessel and disrupt that flow of transportation or gain a ransom opportunity. With e-mail it’s not just the legacy networks that are exposed, but the prey on the vulnerable, untrained crew.

Vessels are connected but they’re remote and isolated, making them prime targets for the potential cyber-criminals, and the crew on board are trained to operate a vessel. So if something goes wrong, it could prove a logistical nightmare if communications are down. With the lifespan of vessels being so long, there’s often legacy original equipment on board, running out of date software. That’s then interacting with the updated communications equipment and if it’s in an always-on style connection, then everything’s connected all the time. This is common in the industry today, where vessels need to have up-to-date information, and have regular if not constant ability to connect to the shore. And then of course, on board these vessels, they hold sensitive information, not just about themselves, or about their voyage and their office, but also about third-arty suppliers they are connected with, again making them an area of interest for the cyber criminals.

The stats show that vessels are at risk and in line of fire. According to a 2018 cyber security survey conducted by Fairplay, BIMCO, and ABS:

  • Over 350 individuals from across the Maritime shipping sector: Over 20% were victim of an incident; 72% said their company were a victim of a cyber related incident in the last 12 months;
  • Of these the most common forms of incident are: Phishing 49%; and Malware (Viruses, Trojans and worms) 44%;
  • These attacks resulted in: Service disruption (49%); and System Downtime (44%).

Regarding the crew element, they survey in a report from FutureNautics, back in 2018, found that:

  • 43% of crew have sailed on a vessel infected by malware;
  • Only 15% of seafarers have received cyber security training.

It’s important to train your staff. Get them aware of the threats, because they are quite frequent, but training is an absolute must. As a technology provider we are doing our utmost to protect vessels and users from receiving threats, but this can only be part of the solution. It’s great technology, but high levels of awareness need to work hand in hand, so we can mitigate with cyber threats together.

The 3 key factors to always remember with cyber security are:

  1. To invest in Multi layered technology and software security – Your cyber security strategy is only as strong as your weakest link;
  2. Processes – make sure you have the right Management and strategies in place;
  3. Human Factor – invest in Cyber Training and Cyber Awareness so that you’re crew are not left vulnerable.

These are so important, in my opinion I suggest that Cyber Security should be added as an agenda point at board level. Ultimately there’s no silver bullet and a strategy of defence in depth should be adopted, covering all these topics is the only sensible approach.

Above text is an edited version of Mr. Robert Kenworthy’s presentation during the 2019 SMART4SEA Conference.

You may view his presentation herebelow.

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of  SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.


About Robert Kenworthy, CEO, GTMaritime

Robert Kenworthy is the CEO at GTMaritime which specialises in Satellite Communications for the Maritime Industry. With innovative thinking, GTMaritime team can provide expert advice backed up with our own quality software products and professional support service