4 Things to Know About Maritime Cyber Security

Few on the outside appreciate just how massive the shipping industry is. Even in an age of air travel and transport, 90 percent of the world’s trade involves international shipping. It continues to be the heartbeat of the global economy – helping to supply nations with raw materials, import and export affordable goods (including food), and bring manufactured products to nations that lack the capability to produce them on their own. 

As the International Chamber of Shipping notes, “There are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations, and manned by over a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

Ships might look like massive hulls of steel, bolts, and containers, but they’re actually highly technical and sophisticated assets. (Some of the more advanced vessels can cost upwards of $200 million to build).

In other words, shipping is big business. And anywhere there’s big business, you’ll find cyber criminals waiting to pounce. In response, maritime cyber security has become a huge point of emphasis for shipping and logistics companies around the world.

The Lowdown on Maritime Cyber Attacks and Security

For those outside of the shipping or cyber defense industry, the concept of maritime cyber security is unfamiliar. But it’s one of the fastest growing fields in the world of cyber security – and here’s what you need to know:

  1. Maritime Security Basics

There are plenty of advanced and sophisticated maritime cyber security methodologies and systems, but it ultimately comes down to the basics. To establish a strong security foundation, all of the following are necessary:

  • Strong user access controls
  • Strong network access controls
  • Regular software updates
  • Regular backups

That’s the bare minimum. These are foundational pillars that you have to lead with. Then there are dozens of strategies, tools, and processes that get layered on top to create an impenetrable defense.

  1. Response Plans Should be Implemented Ahead of Time

Mission Secure is considered one of the primary leaders in the maritime cyber security portion of the industry. They spend a lot of time studying maritime cyber security incidents and then applying the lessons and takeaways to their approach. And one of the biggest revelations over the past year has been the need to establish a data protection and recover strategy…ahead of time.

As they explain, “Yes, you need to ensure your vessel network and critical control systems are protected, but you also need a data protection and recovery plan in place so that if your network is knocked offline, you can still operate.”

This also goes hand-in-hand with backups. While a standard online backup is good, it’s no longer a best practice. Having a backup attached to the network leaves the organization susceptible to attack. Thus, it’s time to rethink the approach to backups.

  1. Malware Prevention is a Must

Malware has been and continues to be a preferred method of infiltrating shipping networks and gaining control of data-laden systems. Hackers use malicious content to access systems, gain control, and damage them. This can lead to temporary issues, as well as long-term problems. Any proactive organization needs to have strong anti-malware policies and defense mechanisms in place to defend their networks both onboard and shore.

  1. Access Should be Limited

Believe it or not, many issues with data security and data loss actually stem from internal issues. In other words, they’re caused by insiders (employees and authorized users) not international hackers. Sometimes these issues are intentional, while other times data is exposed accidentally.

One of the best ways to curb the threat of insider attacks is to be more rigorous with how you manage user privileges. No individual should be given more access than their job duties call for. Be meticulous with how you grant and revoke access and defenses will be strengthened. 

The Hope for a Safer Future 

It’s unclear what the future of cyber crime and cyber defense holds. However, this much we do know: As long as the shipping industry accounts for a massive portion of the world’s international trade, there will be hackers and global cyber crime organizations doing everything they can to attack. And it’s only with a comprehensive and concerted effort that their malicious maneuvers will be thwarted. 




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