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Supply chain boom turns boxships attractive cyberattack targets

Photo: Cydome Avital Sincai Cydome.jpg
Avital Sincai, Co-founder and COO of Cydome
The skyrocketing profitability of supply chain companies has created a new attack vector for cybercriminals to target containerships warn maritime cybersecurity experts Cydome.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News Avital Sincai, Co-founder and COO of Cydome, said that the fact shipping companies in the supply chain now had large amounts of money made them a target for extortion through the likes of ransomware attacks.

“When you look at the broader perspective and supply chain, a supply chain suffering from shortages, and it's delivering over 90% of world trade, and now maritime companies are very profitable. It’s been a very good year for maritime companies,” she said.

These factors make maritime a “really interesting attack vector” as it provides an avenue to disrupt the supply chain and extort money from the companies in it. Sincai commented extortion was back on the table as there was much more money in the sector.

With each containership both larger than in the past, and at full capacity due to high demand, attacking just a single vessel has the potential to create hundreds of millions of dollars, and more, worth of damage. “So now, each vessel is a more interesting as target,” she said. “Now we’ve also seen hackers attacking the supply chain as a vector.”

Shipboard IT systems and third-party vendors provide multiple entry points for a cyber-attack.

Given the strategic nature of the supply chain there is a threat not only from commercial cyber-criminals but also state-sponsored hacker activists.

It is a threat that is being taken very seriously at national levels. A “Cyber Strategic Outlook” published by the US Coast Guard (USCG) in August last year stated: “As the backbone of the United States’ economy, the Marine Transportation System (MTS) is a prime target for malicious cyber actors who seek to disrupt our supply chain.” It put the value of trade through the marine transportation system at some $5.4trn, with 90% of US imports entering the country by sea.

Cyberattacks on vessels may not just impact the individual ship but also spread to shoreside facilities such as ports and terminals through connected IT systems.

Sincai cites the example of an undisclosed port in Europe that was forced to pay an extortion fee for five days after a virus from the vessel infiltrated its wi-fi and contaminated the entire port’s systems. Initially the port refused to pay. “That was a catastrophe for them and eventually they paid. Sometimes it's the cheaper solution.”

As to the level of awareness of the potential problem in the industry she believes it is improving compared to two years ago when it was “very little”.

“Now I think we are part of a process of increasing the level of awareness,” she said. This involves training not only the IT team but also the crew on board in knowing what not to do.

“We've seen more companies who have their IT teams are more aware, I would say that are seeing more approaching and searching for solutions,” Sincai said. However, others are still waiting until something bad happens before purchasing a solution.