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  May 30th, 2016 | Written by

Cybersecurity: A Risk on the High Seas

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  • Systems on cargo vessels are increasingly interconnecting and networked.
  • The networking of onboard systems leads to cyber risks and vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.
  • There are five essential elements of a cyber defense strategy identified in IMO guidelines.

Cyber technologies have emerged as essential to the operation of maritime cargo vessels. Onboard systems from bridge systems to cargo handling and from propulsion to administrative to communication systems are increasingly interconnecting and networked.

This, in turn, can lead to cyber risks and vulnerabilities which need to be addressed.

That’s why the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping, recently released a set of draft guidelines on maritime cyber risk management.

Cyber threats in the maritime environment are presented by malicious actions—such as hacking or the introduction of malware, noted the guidelines, or the unintended consequences of benign actions, such as software maintenance or user permissions.

“In general, these actions expose vulnerabilities (e.g. outdated software or ineffective firewalls) or exploit a vulnerability in operational or information technology,” said the guidelines. “Effective cyber risk management should consider both kinds of threat.”

Vulnerabilities result from inadequacies in design, integration and/or maintenance of systems. When vulnerabilities are exploited, the document noted, whether directly from weak passwords or indirectly from the absence of network segregation, “there can be implications for security and the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.” There can also be implications for the safety and operations of a vessel, particularly when critical systems, such navigation or propulsion systems, are compromised.

The essential elements of a cyber defense strategy identified in the guidelines include:

Identify: Define personnel roles and responsibilities for cyber risk management and identify the systems, assets, data, and capabilities that pose risks to ship operations.

Protect: Implement risk control processes and measures, and contingency planning to protect against a cyber event and ensure continuity.

Detect: Develop and implement activities necessary to detect a cyber event in a timely manner.

Respond: Develop and implement activities and plans to provide resilience and to restore systems necessary for shipping operations or services impaired due to a cyber event.

Recover: Identify measures to back up and restore systems necessary for shipping operations.

“Effective cyber risk management should ensure an appropriate level of awareness of cyber risks at all levels of an organization,” the document concluded. “The level of awareness and preparedness should

be appropriate to roles and responsibilities in the cyber risk management system.”