Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

Coast Guard Warns Shipping Firms of Maritime Cyberattacks

A commercial vessel suffered a significant malware attack in February, prompting the US Coast Guard to issues an advisory to all shipping companies: Here be malware.

In February 2019, a large ship bound for New York City radioed the US Coast Guard warning that the vessel was "experiencing a significant cyber incident impacting their shipboard network." 

The Coast Guard led an incident-response team to investigate the issue and found that malware had infected the ships systems and significantly degraded functionality. Fortunately, essential systems for the control of the vessel were unimpeded.

On July 8, the military branch issued an alert to commercial vessels strongly recommending that they improve their cybersecurity in the wake of the incident, including segmenting shipboard networks, enforcing per-user passwords and roles, installing basic security protections, and patching regularly. 

"It is unknown whether this vessel is representative of the current state of cybersecurity aboard deep-draft vessels," the Coast Guard's alert stated. "However, with engines that are controlled by mouse clicks, and growing reliance on electronic charting and navigation systems, protecting these systems with proper cybersecurity measures is as essential as controlling physical access to the ship or performing routine maintenance on traditional machinery."

The focus on the security and safety of maritime networks is not new. Following the Stuxnet attack in 2009, which decimated the ability of Iran to enrich uranium ore and demonstrated the ability of cyber operations to impact physical infrastructure, government and industry began to look to their own defenses. Among those scrutinized sectors were maritime and shipping.

The European Network and Information Security Agency, now known as the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, analyzed the state of maritime cybersecurity in 2011, releasing a report late that year. The report found that cybersecurity awareness in the maritime sector was "low to non-existent" and the focus of nearly all security measures were on physical systems. 

Six years later, the industry had woken up to the threats but still moved at a slow pace, says Markus Schmitz, managing director of SOFTimpact, a Cyprus-based IT solutions provider to the maritime industry. In 2017, however, the NotPetya ransomware attack hit computers at shipping firm AP Moller-Maersk, requiring the firm to reinstall 4,000 servers, 45,000 workstations, and 2,500 applications in less than two weeks, costing the firm between $250 million and $300 million.

The incident spurred the industry to greater efforts, focusing on cybersecurity issues, including establishing industry groups and vetting initiatives. Yet companies in the sector are still not ready, says Schmitz. 

Incidents like NotPetya are "bound to happen and such random incidents will happen to other shipping companies as well as companies of any other industry," Schmitz says. "In this regard, the shipping industry is neither more nor less vulnerable than any other globally operating business."

Yet more than 90% of the world's trade is carried by shipping, according to the United Nations' International Maritime Organization, and that puts the industry in the crosshairs of potential targeted attackers. Because the shipboard systems mix IT and operational technology (OT), companies are vulnerable to losing control of ships due to a cyberattack. 

In addition, the business model of global shipping makes the vessels even more vulnerable, SOFTimpact's Schmitz says. Crew tend to be temporary — independent contractors on voyage contracts — an arrangement that makes them hard to train and usually unfamiliar with a specific company's information security policy. In fact, most ships are operated with crew contracted through multiple levels of outsourcing, making assigning responsibility for information systems — and incidents to those systems — nearly impossible. Good luck telling the captain or a port pilot that they cannot use a USB stick, he says. 

"The role of the in-house IT must be extended to include the OT systems," Schmitz says. "The in-house IT must be trained on OT systems, must spend time onboard, must be included in purchasing processes, and must take responsibility."

The issues apparently plagued the commercial ship mentioned in the US Coast Guard alert. The ship's crew knew, but did not care, that the entire system was insecure.

"Prior to the incident, the security risk presented by the shipboard network was well known among the crew," the alert stated. "Although most crew members didn't use onboard computers to check personal email, make online purchases or check their bank accounts, the same shipboard network was used for official business — to update electronic charts, manage cargo data and communicate with shore-side facilities, pilots, agents, and the Coast Guard."

The US Coast Guard recommends that owners of vessels and the shipping firms that use the vessels require regular cybersecurity assessments. Other recommendations can be found on the Coast Guard's cybersecurity page.

For the most part, shipboard networks do not pose a great risk until they are specifically targeted by attackers who aim to compromise the operational networks. While those attacks are not common, they will come, says SOFTimpact's Schmitz.

"There is no reason to panic, but there is a problem and in many shipping companies, it has not been dealt with in an adequate (or organized) manner," he says.

Related Content

 

Black Hat USA returns to Las Vegas with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions, and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Why Cyber-Risk Is a C-Suite Issue
Marc Wilczek, Digital Strategist & CIO Advisor,  11/12/2019
Unreasonable Security Best Practices vs. Good Risk Management
Jack Freund, Director, Risk Science at RiskLens,  11/13/2019
Breaches Are Inevitable, So Embrace the Chaos
Ariel Zeitlin, Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder, Guardicore,  11/13/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19010
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-16
Eval injection in the Math plugin of Limnoria (before 2019.11.09) and Supybot (through 2018-05-09) allows remote unprivileged attackers to disclose information or possibly have unspecified other impact via the calc and icalc IRC commands.
CVE-2019-16761
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-15
A specially crafted Bitcoin script can cause a discrepancy between the specified SLP consensus rules and the validation result of the [email protected] npm package. An attacker could create a specially crafted Bitcoin script in order to cause a hard-fork from the SLP consensus. All versions >1.0...
CVE-2019-16762
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-15
A specially crafted Bitcoin script can cause a discrepancy between the specified SLP consensus rules and the validation result of the slpjs npm package. An attacker could create a specially crafted Bitcoin script in order to cause a hard-fork from the SLP consensus. Affected users can upgrade to any...
CVE-2019-13581
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-15
An issue was discovered in Marvell 88W8688 Wi-Fi firmware before version p52, as used on Tesla Model S/X vehicles manufactured before March 2018, via the Parrot Faurecia Automotive FC6050W module. A heap-based buffer overflow allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service or execute arbitrary ...
CVE-2019-13582
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-15
An issue was discovered in Marvell 88W8688 Wi-Fi firmware before version p52, as used on Tesla Model S/X vehicles manufactured before March 2018, via the Parrot Faurecia Automotive FC6050W module. A stack overflow could lead to denial of service or arbitrary code execution.