green and tech interviews

“Shipping stands ready to face challenges posed by cybercrime” / INTERVIEW

Starting 2021, Flag States will have to apply IMO guidelines.


EUROPOL director Rob Wainwright has called it “a new business model”. In recent years, cybercrime has increasingly targeted the transport sector, causing experts in the field to respond by honing their tool kits. One of the most sensational cyber-criminal attacks on the global supply chain occurred in the port of Antwerp between 2011 and 2013. The breach was discovered during an investigation of a truck driver being attacked when he was unwittingly transporting containers stuffed with cocaine from the port, whereupon the drug gang was able to make off with the shipment. What ensued was a daring assault on the truck using AK-47 assault rifles, some kilometres outside the port area. During the investigations into the incident, Belgian police and Europol discovered how the gang smuggled the drug undetected: the drug traffickers recruited hackers in order to gain access to computers at the Port of Antwerp.
They were able to infiltrate certain computers and control them, allowing them to modify and falsify container records so that, unsuspected, they could steal particular containers and avoid inspection.

The global transport sector has been slow to understand the risks associated with IT developments, which go hand in hand with benefits such as instant communication. Speaking for the maritime sector is Francesco Chiappetta, former Italian Navy rear admiral, who formed part of Confitarma’s expert panel on maritime security, and, having resumed civilian life, is currently a member of the Italian Naval Institute.

“Certain operators,” pointed out the expert, “may be vulnerable due to a lack of experience. More training is needed, both on the ground and on board.” Chiappetta explained how the situation within shipping companies is evolving, with a growing awareness of cyber risks, mainly thanks to the work done by IMO and BIMCO associations, and, as far as the Italian maritime sphere is concerned, thanks to a conference organized last May by Confitarma. In 2016 both IMO and BIMCO published cyber security guidelines, which both entities updated in 2017. In particular, Flag States will have to comply with IMO guidelines on the matter by 2021. On that date, even more detailed directives are to be issued, either in the form of additions to the SOLAS Convention, or in a more specific form.

“The Confitarma seminar, requested by Cesare d’Amico and held on May 24,” added Chiappetta, “represented an important moment. d’Amico highlighted the fact that the issue affects not just office computers, but also all of a ship’s management equipment.”

The cyber security expert warned that attention must focus on two fronts. One is the so-called information technology (IT), which deals with devices such as personal computers and mobile phones. Just this year, Maersk line computers were hacked, causing damages estimated at $300 million. The other front involves the ship’s operational technology. “At first,” said Chiappetta, “problems within this other domain of shipping had not been clearly defined. It has now been amply demonstrated how all of a ship’s control systems can be hacked, even in ways that cannot be detected. A ship’s navigation system could be hijacked, causing a delay in its scheduled port arrival, thus causing serious damage to cargo deliveries. Even more catastrophic scenarios can be envisaged, if, for instance, someone hijacked the controls of a gas carrier. Forty percent of the world fleet already functions on extremely advanced technology. And fleet upgrading is happening continuously. With ninety percent of global goods travelling by sea, it’s important to look closely at container shipping, as an impact from a cyber-attack in this sector would be enormous, of a much greater scale than an equivalent attack on a land-based office. Moreover, maritime transport is more exposed by its being, by definition, a global undertaking, and, so, does not affect just a single country.”