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Emerging Technologies Could Pave Way for New Forms of Piracy

Posted by Stephen Harris 23 January 2017

Recent data from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre has shown that piracy incidents remain a major concern for the industry, with 184 reported incidents worldwide in 2016.  While this generally refers to “traditional” piracy risks, emerging technologies could result in these attacks becoming more successful in the future, thereby increasing the risk to the industry.

Pirates are more technologically aware than you might think. Due to the rapidly advancing technology being used in the shipping industry, pirates could potentially hack a shipping company’s cyber system, enabling them to target, track, and board specific cargo ships, before successfully offloading the cargo and vanishing before the authorities can stop them.

Cyber-attacks in the marine industry may not have been as highly publicised as those that have taken place in other sectors. However, the marine industry has long been contemplating what would happen if pirates were to use such technology to their advantage, and the potential impact such attacks could have on their operations, customers, and reputation.

Shipowners and operators should be aware of how pirates could utilise emerging technologies to their advantage. For example:

  • Internet of things: Smart technology is increasingly being used by shipowners, but if it is not properly secured, pirates could hack into these systems and gain valuable information about goods, locations, security processes on board, and even when watches on board are about to change. The industry is increasingly using more portable and more interconnected devices than ever before. But how much thought has been given to the security of these systems, and how much training is there for crews to avoid thoughtlessly revealing communications using insecure hand-held radio devices?
  • Drone technology: Pirates could also use drones as surveillance or to carry out attacks. Pirates are embracing drone technology for surveillance and weapon delivery, giving them a long-range advantage.  The question remains: What steps can be taken to reduce the effectiveness of pirates’ drone technology if it is used?

As a result, the marine industry could face serious losses in the future if it does not innovate to better protect itself from these risks. A greater focus on the security of interconnected systems is needed to make sure critical information is not easily available to pirates.

Although many outstanding questions remain around the best way to mitigate against the risk of cyber piracy, what does appear certain is that cyber issues in the marine industry will remain at the forefront for the foreseeable future.

Related to:  Marine , Cyber Risk

Stephen Harris