Global Shipping Exposed to Cyber Threats

Posted by Eric Haun
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The next hacker playground: the open seas - and the oil tankers and container vessels that ship 90 percent of the goods moved around the planet.

In this internet age, as more devices are hooked up online, so they become more vulnerable to attack. As industries like maritime and energy connect ships, containers and rigs to computer networks, they expose weaknesses that hackers can exploit.

Hackers recently shut down a floating oil rig by tilting it, while another rig was so riddled with computer malware that it took 19 days to make it seaworthy again; Somali pirates help choose their targets by viewing navigational data online, prompting ships to either turn off their navigational devices, or fake the data so it looks like they're somewhere else; and hackers infiltrated computers connected to the Belgian port of Antwerp, located specific containers, made off with their smuggled drugs and deleted the records.

While data on the extent of the maritime industry's exposure to cyber crime is hard to come by, a study of the related energy sector by insurance brokers Willis this month found that the industry "may be sitting on an uninsured time bomb".

Globally, it estimated that cyber attacks against oil and gas infrastructure will cost energy companies close to $1.9 billion by 2018. The British government reckons cyber attacks already cost UK oil and gas companies around 400 million pounds ($672 million) a year.

In the maritime industry, the number of known cases is low as attacks often remain invisible to the company, or businesses don't want to report them for fear of alarming investors, regulators or insurers, security experts say.

There are few reports that hackers have compromised maritime cyber security. But researchers say they have discovered significant holes in the three key technologies sailors use to navigate: GPS, marine Automatic Identification System (AIS), and a system for viewing digital nautical charts called Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS).

"Increasingly, the maritime domain and energy sector has turned to technology to improve production, cost and reduce delivery schedules," a NATO-accredited think-tank wrote in a recent report. "These technological changes have opened the door to emerging threats and vulnerabilities as equipment has become accessible to outside entities."

Tip of the Iceberg
As crews get smaller and ships get bigger, they increasingly rely on automation and remote monitoring, meaning key components, including navigational systems, can be hacked.

A recent study by security company Rapid7 found more than 100,000 devices - from traffic signal equipment to oil and gas monitors - were connected to the internet using serial ports with poor security. "The lines get blurry, and all industries and all technologies need to focus more on security," said Mark Schloesser, one of the authors of the study.

Mark Gazit, CEO of ThetaRay, an internet security company, said an attacker managed to tilt a floating oil rig to one side off the coast of Africa, forcing it to shut down. It took a week to identify the cause and fix, he said, mainly because there were no cyber security professionals aboard. He declined to say more.

Lars Jensen, founder of CyberKeel, a maritime cyber security firm, said ships often switch off their AIS systems when passing through waters where Somali pirates are known to operate, or fake the data to make it seem they're somewhere else.

Shipping companies contacted by Reuters generally played down the potential threat from hackers. "Our only concern at this stage is the possible access to this information by pirates, and we have established appropriate countermeasures to handle this threat," said Ong Choo Kiat, president of U-Ming Marine Transport, Taiwan's second-largest listed shipping firm by market value. The company owns and operates 53 dry cargo ships and oil tankers.

Virus-riddled
A study last year by the Brookings Institution of six U.S. ports found that only one had conducted an assessment of how vulnerable it was to a cyber attack, and none had developed any plan to response to any such attack. Of some $2.6 billion allocated to a federal program to beef up port security, less than 1 percent had been awarded for cyber security projects.

When CyberKeel probed the online defences of the world's 20 largest container carriers this year it found 16 had serious security gaps. "When you look at the maritime industry there's extremely limited evidence of systems having been breached" compared to other sectors, said CyberKeel's Jensen. "That suggests to us that they've not yet been found out."

Michael Van Gemert, a security consultant to the oil and gas industry, said that on visits to rigs and ships he has found computers and control systems riddled with viruses. In one case, he said it took 19 days to rid a drilling rig en route from South Korea to Brazil of malware which had brought the vessel's systems to a standstill.

"The industry is massively in need of help, they have no idea what the risks are," he said.

The main ship navigation systems - GPS, AIS and ECDIS - are standards supported by bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Indeed, that body has made AIS and ECDIS mandatory on larger commercial and passenger vessels.

Researchers from the University of Texas demonstrated last July that it was possible to change a ship's direction by faking a GPS signal to dupe its onboard navigation system.

Marco Balduzzi and colleagues at anti-virus vendor Trend Micro last month showed that an attacker with a $100 VHF radio could exploit weaknesses in AIS - which transmits data such as a vessel's identity, type, position, heading and speed to shore stations and other ships - and tamper with the data, impersonate a port authority's communications with a ship or effectively shut down communications between ships and with ports.

In January, a British cyber security research firm, NCC Group, found flaws in one vendor's ECDIS software that would allow an attacker to access and modify files, including charts. "If exploited in a real scenario," the company concluded, "these vulnerabilities could cause serious environmental and financial damage, and even loss of life."

When the USS Guardian ran aground off the Philippines last year, the U.S. Navy in part blamed incorrect digital charts. A NATO-accredited think-tank said the case illustrated "the dangers of exclusive reliance upon electronic systems, particularly if they are found vulnerable to cyber attack."

"Most of these technologies were developed when bandwidth was very expensive or the internet didn't exist," said Vincent Berk, CEO of security company FlowTraq.

No Quick Fix
Fixing this will take time, and a change in attitude.

"Security and attack scenarios against these technologies and protocols have been ignored for quite some time in the maritime industry," said Rapid7's Schloesser.

Researchers like Fotios Katsilieris have offered ways to measure whether AIS data is being faked, though he declined to be interviewed, saying it remained a sensitive area. One Google researcher who has proposed changes to the AIS protocol wrote on his blog that he had been discouraged by the U.S. Coastguard from talking publicly about its vulnerabilities.

Indeed, AIS is abused within the industry itself.

Windward, an Israeli firm that collects and analyses AIS data, found 100 ships transmitting incorrect locations via AIS in one day - often for security or financial reasons, such as fishing boats operating outside assigned waters, or smuggling.

In a U.N. report issued earlier this year on alleged efforts by North Korea to procure nuclear weapons, investigators wrote that one ship carrying concealed cargo turned off its AIS signals to disguise and conceal its trip to Cuba.

It's not clear how seriously the standards bodies treat the threat. Trend Micro's Balduzzi said he and his colleagues were working with standards organisations, which he said would meet next year to discuss his research into AIS vulnerabilities.

The core standard is maintained by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in association with the IMO. In a statement, the IMO said no such report of vulnerabilities had been brought to its attention. The ITU said no official body had contacted it about the vulnerabilities of AIS. It said it was studying the possibility of reallocating spectrum to reduce saturation of AIS applications.

Yevgen Dyryavyy, author of the NCC report on ECDIS, was sceptical that such bodies would solve the problems soon.

First, he said, they have to understand the IT security of shipboard networks, onboard linked equipment and software, and then push out new guidelines and certification.

Until then, he said, "nothing will be done about it."

($1 = 0.5949 British Pounds)

(By Jeremy Wagstaff; Additional reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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

Tanker Trends

LNG Vessel with Wartsila Integrated Solutions Delivered to Evergas

The first in a series of 27,500 cbm 'Dragon' class vessels ordered by Evergas, a world renowned owner and operator of seaborne petrochemical and liquid gas transport vessels,

Bahri Orders VLCC Newbuilds

Bahri ordered five newbuild very large crude carriers from Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries   The National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri) today signed

Tankers Switch to Digital Navigation

In July 2015 international regulation requires all tankers to be compliant with IMO rules for the use of ECDIS and ENCs. As many shipping companies start planning

Container Ships

Chevron Hires Viking Princess

Eidesvik Offshore has signed a contract for 19 months with Chevron UK employment for one platform supply vessel (PSV) Viking Princess.    The vessel will be

Wärtsilä Bags BWM Systems Order from Jinhai Shipyard

Wärtsilä Corporation, has received an order for ballast water management systems (BWMS) for three new container ships being built for a major European shipping

CMA-CGM to Call Port of Baltimore

International container shipping company CMA-CGM of France announced that it will begin service within the next couple of weeks to the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore.

Maritime Security

Coast Guard Foundation Hosts Annual Tribute

The Coast Guard Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the education and welfare of all Coast Guard members and their families, announced today that

John Warner Successfully Completes Initial Sea Trials

A Virginia-class attack submarine named after former U.S. Sen. John Warner has successfully completed an initial round of sea trials,  reports UPI.   The U.S.

NSA Chief Urges 'Safe' Internet Under Equivalent of Law of the Sea

The U.S. National Security Agency chief called on Wednesday for an "open, reliable and safe" Internet governed by international rules akin to the Law of the Sea,

News

LNG Vessel with Wartsila Integrated Solutions Delivered to Evergas

The first in a series of 27,500 cbm 'Dragon' class vessels ordered by Evergas, a world renowned owner and operator of seaborne petrochemical and liquid gas transport vessels,

Executive Changes at Transocean

Transocean Ltd. today announced that, as mutually agreed with the company, Esa Ikaheimonen is stepping down as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer effective immediately.

BMT, Endeavour Energy Win Africa’s LNG Import Terminal Contract

BMT Asia Pacific (BMT), a subsidiary of BMT Group Ltd, has been appointed Owners Engineer and lead design consultant by Endeavour Energy for the development

Electronics

KVM for Ships, Harbors and Offshore

With the increasing application of IT installations in maritime environments, the requirements for optimized operation increase as well. KVM technology said it

UKHO ‘Living with ECDIS’ Seminars at Nor-Shipping

Seminar to include information on updated IHO ENC Standards   The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) has announced the details of its free-to-attend ECDIS Seminars at Nor-Shipping,

Scandlines Orders Ferry Battery System

Corvus Energy announces the signing of marine Energy Storage System (ESS) contract with Scandlines Denmark ApS; world’s largest battery hybrid electric fleet orders additional 2.

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Navigation Offshore Oil Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators 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: 0.1983 sec (5 req/sec)