The past few months have seen an increase in reported cyberattacks on ships. The rise in cyberattacks on the commercial shipping network has prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to issue a warning.

This is the second such warning to be issued by the U.S. Coast Guard in the past three months. Together with a recent shipping industry report, they confirm that shipping companies and commercial vessels are being targeted by hackers and many of those attacks are succeeding.

Ships are now largely controlled by computers and mouse clicks and there is increasing reliance on electronic navigation systems. It is now common for operational technology and information technology to be linked together via onboard networks and certain systems are now connected to the internet. When devices are networked and connect to the Internet, hackers are given the opportunity to attack.

The cyberattack that prompted the latest warning occurred in February 2019. A ship bound for the Port of New York started experiencing severe disruption to its shipboard network. Vessel control systems were not affected, although the functionality of the network was severely degraded. The U.S. Coast Guard led a forensic investigation which revealed malware had been installed on the network.

The ship was known to be vulnerable to attack so the crew did not typically use the network for personal matters such as email. The network was only used for business purposes, which involved contact with third parties to maintain charts, manage cargo data, and communicate with shore-side facilities. It is currently unclear how the malware was installed, but what is clear is that cybersecurity defenses were nowhere near sufficient.

The advice from the Coast Guard is to implement network segmentation to limit the harm that can be caused in the event of an attack. Network profiles should be created for each user, and the rule of least privilege should be applied. Anti-virus software should be installed, all software should be kept up to date, and care should be taken connecting any external device to a networked computer due to the risk of malware.

If hackers can gain access to the network, they can steal sensitive data, cause serious disruption to internal networks, and systems could even be rendered inoperable. An extortion attack involving ransomware, for instance, could leave shipping firms with no alternative other than to pay up.

These attacks are the latest in a string of cyberattacks on commercial vessels. In December 2018, 21 shipping associations and industry groups produced a set of guidelines on cybersecurity onboard ships to help commercial vessel operators improve security, secure their networks, and make it difficult for hackers.

The report details recent USB-based attacks, RDP-based attacks, phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, and attacks involving malware, viruses, and worms. The attacks have caused major delays to shipping firms, financial losses, and in some cases have jeopardized safety.

Just as captains must make sure that access to the engine room is restricted, the same should be the case for computer systems. If systems are not secured, cyberattacks are inevitable.

TitanHQ can help shipping firms protect against email and web-based attacks and block the two main vectors that are used to attack commercial vessels.

Contact the team today to ask about SpamTitan and WebTitan: TitanHQ’s award winning antispam and DNS filtering solutions.