The maritime industry plays a vital role in the global economy, with shipping responsible for as much as 90 per cent of trade worldwide. Unfortunately, the marine sector faces a huge problem: cyber crime.
The rapid digitization of core functions has had many benefits for seafarers and maritime authorities, but it has also created a web of vulnerabilities for cyber criminals to exploit. And with our latest data indicating a massive 400pc increase in weekly cyber events, digital security will likely present significant issues for all major shipping carriers in 2023 and beyond.
Reasons Behind Marine Cybercrime
The marine sector has been quick to embrace digital transformation, deploying advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) to improve efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and ensure the safety of ships and their cargo. However, the more marine equipment becomes integrated with technology, the more there is to lose in the event of a breach. Hackers are well aware of this digital dependency and use it to wreak havoc on critical infrastructures, launching an endless barrage of phishing and ransomware attacks on vulnerable systems.
The threat to maritime cyber security has heightened in the last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian-based cyber criminals and state actors are working hard to improve their capabilities, sharing highly advanced cyber weaponry to disrupt communications and conduct cyber espionage across the world. To make matters worse, the increasing interconnectedness of global supply chains presents new levels of risk. If one chink is compromised, the consequences could ripple far and wide. For example, a cyber attack on Transnet, South Africa’s major port operator, led to the shutdown of multiple port systems across the country. The breach caused weeks of downtime and cost millions of dollars.
Renewing Cyber Efforts
With high inflation and geopolitical tensions reducing maritime freight, many shipping carriers will avoid making cyber security investments to cut costs, leaving a concerning number of systems exposed. So, whilst the cyber security industry struggles with labor shortages, mariners and maritime organizations must assess dynamic risks and fill skill gaps to ensure the safety and continuity of sea-based operations. The International Maritime Organization and other regulatory bodies have enacted several legislations to improve digital security in maritime environments.
However, for these policies to be effective, mariners must begin to see cyber security as a collective responsibility. Around 80 to 90% of cyber attacks are attributed to human error, making training and awareness one of the core elements of protecting individuals, organizations and infrastructures against cyber crime. On a broader scale, the industry requires action beyond the defense of national and organizational interests.
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