Risk of Information Theft on Inmarsat C

Dr. Ir. F. J. Sluiman
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dr. Ir. Sluiman, of eXpert ICT, is a naval reserve officer assigned to the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) organization of the Netherlands. All analyses and views expressed in this article are those of the author.

Communication between ship and shore is essential for the efficient operation and management of ships. The wireless systems to communicate from and to ships, however, are not always secure and the confidentiality of the communication may be invaded. Owners, operators, managers of vessels and shipmasters should be aware of this risk when using a communication system. Information theft by competitors may erode competitive advantages and could damage relationships with customers, information theft by pirates and terrorists may lead to attacks on ships.

The degree in which the security of a wireless communication system can be trusted depends on the complexity of the computations needed to decode messages intercepted from this system. Technology, however, is constantly advancing and complexity may vanish as computer power increases. Hence, security of wireless communication systems should be a continuous concern.

Presently, several Internet sites are offering Inmarsat C decoding software with the ability to fully reconstruct all Inmarsat C messages send to ships by a land earth station (LES). This is disturbing as Inmarsat C, launched in 1991 to provide low-cost data communication and GMDSS services, counts an estimated 125,000 maritime terminals.

To examine the seriousness of this threat, the most promising Inmarsat C decoding software was purchased and tested on an ordinary personal computer connected to L-Band radio receiving equipment. Tuning in on LES Burum the test showed that the decoder met its specifications: the software flawlessly decoded the Inmarsat C frames, assembled the messages, and logged them. This effectively means that maritime criminals with no more than a basic knowledge of radio technology and computers will be able to read all Inmarsat C messages send from a LES after an investment of €2500 on equipment and decoding software.

So the threat is real, but does it mean that Inmarsat C cannot be used anymore for data communication? No, it continues to be a very reliable system, be it that sensitive data needs to be encrypted. Fortunately there are some good free products available to do this. One of these products is the 7-Zip utility which can be downloaded at www.7-zip.org. This utility supports file compression with 256-bit AES encryption and is very easy to use. It decreases the amount of data to be sent and is applicable where confidential transfer of cryptographic keys between ship and shore is possible (by another communication system or by some physical means).

When confidential transfer of cryptographic keys is not possible, the GNU Privacy Guard tool downloadable at www.gnupg.org might be considered. This free tool is somewhat less intuitive to use and works with ElGamal encryption, which has the disadvantage that the size of the original data will be expanded with a factor of two. It is as such only recommended for confidential cryptographic key transfer of products like 7-Zip.

Whatever cryptographic product is decided upon, care should be taken to use sufficiently large randomly chosen cryptographic keys and to regularly change them. All these measures significantly decrease the risk of information theft on Inmarsat C, making it secure again.
 

Maritime Reporter July 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Maritime Security

South China Sea Hotline in the Works

China and Southeast Asian nations have agreed to set up a foreign ministers' hotline to tackle emergencies in the disputed South China Sea, a senior official of

Three Rescued on Lake Tahoe

The Coast Guard and multiple agencies rescued three people Wednesday evening after they were reported missing on Lake Tahoe. At 9:45 p.m., Coast Guard Sector

Fond Farewell to HMAS Tobruk

The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK, MC (Retd), together with the Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert, MP,

Communication

Intelsat Records $598 mln Q2 Revenue

Satellite services provider Intelsat S.A. has reported total revenue of $598.1 million and net income attributable to Intelsat S.A. of $60.2 million, or $0.47 per common share on a diluted basis,

McMurdo Introduces Real-time Fleet Management

McMurdo  has announced PRISMA Connect, a web-based integrated fleet management system that connects ship to shore in real-time for improved communication and operational efficiencies,

General Dynamics Tops Q2 Estimates

General Dynamics Corp, a maker of ships, tanks and business jets, reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings and revenues on Wednesday, and sharply raised its outlook for full-year profit.

 
 
Maritime Security Maritime Standards Pipelines Pod Propulsion Port Authority Ship Repair Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1146 sec (9 req/sec)