Troubled Waters: How A New Wave of Cyber-Attacks is Targeting Maritime Trade
“The historical ‘air gap’ separating industrial control systems from enterprise networks meant that factories and shipyards were more or less immune to cyber-attack. As long as systems were air-gapped it didn’t matter how pernicious or effective the cyber-threat became, we felt confident that these virtual concerns couldn’t impact our physical infrastructure. But recent years have proven us wrong. As the global transition to smart infrastructure — from IoT sensors in trash cans to app-controlled irrigation systems — has enabled enormous gains in efficiency and precision, at the same time it has quietly deflated this air gap.
The global shipping industry has recently been under the spotlight as it discovers this truth, with companies and ports across the world significantly affected by cyber-attacks during the last few years. The 2017 NotPetya ransomware outbreak was one of the most devastating such attacks in history, and it one of the most well-known shipping companies more than $300 million in damages. Just over a month ago, on the heels of an attack on the Port of Long Beach, both the Port of Barcelona and the Port of San Diego suffered major security breaches in the span of less than a week. The increasing convergence of IT and OT systems shows no signs of slowing. The rapid shift toward hyper-connected ‘smart’ ports, for instance, is rendering physical harbors susceptible to traditionally digital threats. It is perhaps no surprise that the Port of Barcelona announced its intention to become a ‘digital port’ just last year. Although the full details have not yet emerged, the recent attacks in Barcelona and San Diego appear to be targeted, with the inadvertent success of last year’s ransomware campaign perhaps inspiring attackers to focus on the maritime sector. This sector is particularly threatened by disruptions due to such technology’s increasingly indispensable role in global trade. A serious compromise could inflict reputational damage, cause significant financial losses to the infected port, disrupt global trade, and even potentially manipulate the global market. Protecting these vital commercial hubs has never been more imperative, but requires thinking beyond air-gapping or standard IT solutions.”