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Expert cautions maritime stakeholders on cyber attack

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Joseph Carson

Joseph Carson

CYBER-SECURITY chief at ESC Global Security, Joseph Carson, has warned that the maritime industry is vulnerable to cyber-crime unless it develops a better awareness of the dangers and adopts security best practice.

Carson said: “Certainly, there is the possibility for AIS [automatic identification system], GNSS [global navigation satellite system], ENC [electronic navigation chart] and ECDIS [electronic chart display and information system] charts to disappear from bridge screens or be modified, but the issue today is that most adversaries want to obtain data for financial gain or criminal activities.”

He explained that out of payment systems, for example, data can be easily attacked using phishing scams to raise fake invoices or even to change shipping manifests in order to transport illicit goods, drugs and weapons.

He explained that while the threat is indeed a real one, greater computer literacy and security awareness can reduce the risk by as much as 25 per cent. He said: “The biggest risk is from human operators not understanding how to deal with or identify a possible security breach.

Almost 70 per cent of malware is manually shared through social media, so awareness and continuous training can have a tangible impact.” Carson explained that the maritime industry is operating computer systems that “remain unpatched” for long periods, adding that continuous updating can prevent vulnerabilities in software from being exposed and used by adversaries.

Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued the updated and revised Rescue at Sea guide intended for the rescue of refugees and migrants.

IMO, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) prepared the guide jointly. According to IMO, the document provides guidance on relevant legal provisions, on practical procedures to ensure the prompt disembarkation of rescued persons, and on measures to meet their specific needs, particularly in the case of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Available data indicates that 2014 has been a record high year for illegal migration at sea, with migrants putting lives at risk and placing a huge strain on rescue services and on merchant vessels. IMO had in  2014,“pursued actively”  its targets and objectives in a wide range of subject areas including rescue at sea.

The global body explained that safety remained a high priority during 2014, pointing out that  IMO adopted the safety provisions of the Polar Code and SOLAS amendments to make it mandatory.

“Also adopted were important measures addressing container safety and enclosed space entry drills. Several amendments entered into force during the year. Domestic ferry safety was also a topic of concern.

“2014 proved a busy and productive year for IMO on the environmental front. Among the highlights were the adoption of the environmental provisions of the Polar Code and the entry into force of the Emission Control Area for the United States and Caribbean Sea.

“Further progress was also made on extending and developing energy efficiency measures for ships. “IMO joined other United Nations bodies in calling for action to address irregular maritime migration, an increasing problem from the point of view of loss of life at sea as well as a burden on shipping.

“The Facilitation Committee moved forward on e-business and the single window concept, approving a completely revised Annex to the FAL Convention, while the Facilitation and Maritime safety Committees agreed to look into cyber security.  Action against piracy and armed robbery against ships remained a high priority off the coasts of Africa.

“IMO was involved in a series of capacity-building projects across the globe including ship recycling, energy efficiency, counter-piracy and stowaways.

“April saw the entry into force of the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, while the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks reached its criteria to enter into force in April 2015. “IMO joined a UN and industry taskforce on Ebola Virus Disease and continued to work with ILO on seafarer matters.

“The importance of effective implementation of IMO measures was a recurrent topic throughout 2014 as it had been chosen as the theme for World Maritime Day. The Secretary-General spoke on theme at meetings and conference across the globe and recorded a video message highlighting key aspects of the subject.

A host of workshops, seminars and training events were organised all over the world, and work progressed in preparation for implementation of the mandatory IMO Member State audit scheme.”


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