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Tech-Savvy Pirates Bring New Threats to Shipping Industry

Posted by Stephen Harris January 31, 2017

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

Pirates are more technologically aware than you might think. With rapidly advancing shipping-industry technology, pirates could hack a shipping company’s information system, enabling them to target, track,  and board specific cargo ships. They would then offload a ship's cargo and escape before authorities can stop them.

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

Shipowners and operators should be aware of how pirates could use emerging technologies. For example:

  • Internet of things: Shipowners are increasingly using smart technology, but if it is not properly secured, pirates could hack into systems to 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 interconnected devices than ever before. But how much thought has been given to the security of these systems and how much training is provided 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 if it does not innovate to better protect itself from these risks. A greater focus on the security of interconnected systems is needed to help ensure critical information is not easily available to pirates.

Although many outstanding questions remain about 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

Senior Vice President, Technical Advisor, Marine & Cargo