Increasing maritime terror and cybercrime threat and reliance on technology

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The threat of cyber attacks on shipping, seeing how much of it today is all controlled by computers, is a real a present one and it, once again, in my mind at least, points to the fact that we have become way too reliant on technology, from satellite navigation to satellite communication, and the actual control of the vessels themselves by means of such technology.

ships_radio_roomNot long ago – in 2015 – the US Navy began to train officers once again in the use of charts, sextant and compass. Pray, what where they up to before?

The maritime and shipping industry tends to be a late adopter of solutions – perhaps one of the reasons for this is that it often doesn't appreciate problems. There is a well held truism in shipping that disasters have done more for safety than any legislator. Sadly it takes tragedy to prompt a response.

This is perhaps, then, the backdrop to cyber security in shipping, or the lack of it. There is a clear problem, but the industry has been slow to wake up to it because there hasn't yet been a big enough disaster to prompt any real action.

What then is the biggest cyber threat to shipping?

Terrorist hackers crashing tankers into each other? Cruise ships being run aground? Cargoes being vanished or containers of drugs being allowed through ports? Well, it seems all of the above – but the biggest current

Single threat would have to be ignorance.

Like with the Internet of Things, however, the biggest threat and problem is actually the use of it and with it the exposure to attacks, and come they will, it is only a matter of time and the hackers managing to hack the systems so as to get access to them.

Either industry has to be very smart and very much ahead of things and the hackers or we better reconsidered the way we do use technology. I would opt for the latter way.

Already some years ago we saw what the over-reliance on technology, and in this case GPS navigation, can do and that problem was only cause by an outage of a satellite or two, in that the British forces in Afghanistan – yes, ,I know they should never have been there in the first place – could not leave their base camp because the GPS was not working. Hello! What happened to the skills of map and compass?

Now, as mention ed above, the US Navy (I guess the merchant fleet does not consider it necessary) has begun, again, and please not the again, to teach its officers the skills of chart, sextant and compass. Are they telling us that for the gods only know how long they have just been relying on satellite navigation/GPS? Apparently so.

In the same way that most vessels nowadays, at least the merchant ones, no longer have radio operators and shortwave radio, but rely solely on VHF (ship to shore) and satellite telephone. Help and double help! So, if there is then a problem with the satellites and one is not in range of the shore radios the proverbial could hit the air moving device.

Can you imagine the announcement on an ocean liner, aka cruise ship: “Ladies and Gentlemen! You may have noticed that our engines have stopped and we are drifting. We are waiting for the maritime satellites for our GPS and our communications to start working again. As without them we do not know where we are we shall be staying here until then.” Could cause a bit of a consternation among the passengers, to say the least.

One can but wonder how we have turned out to be so stupid as to reply so heavily with about everything on technology such as those computerized things. Using them is one thing but without a more old-fashioned backup is not smart at all. Sometimes it is hard to fathom.

© 2016