NEW DELHI: Somali pirates are not the only threat faced by ships sailing the high seas. Large vessels out at sea are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks by sophisticated hackers sitting thousands of miles away.
After the collision between US Navy ship USS Fitzgerald and a cargo ship 60 miles off the coast of Japan in June this year, assessment by security and Intelligence agencies has revealed that control systems of ships were vulnerable to cyber attacks.
On November 22, the agencies warned of cyber intrusions or malicious attacks on the networked control system of ships with the clear objective to engineer collisions, inflict damage and control the operational system of targeted ships.
In the US Navy ship’s case, suspicion was raised over the possibility of cyber goons hacking into the GPS system of the container ship to disrupt the navigation system, leading to the collision with USS Fitzgerald.
A senior Intelligence officer said the increasing exchange of information through the ship’s networked control system is susceptible to cyber attacks as these sophisticated systems use the internet for operation and control of the ship’s movement.
“There is also the possibility of inadvertent use of malware-laced data disks by the crew that may compromise the systems on board. We have advised Indian ships to put in place a solid mechanism for screening individuals who are authorised to access sensitive systems onboard,” the official said.
The maritime cell of the Intelligence Bureau has also asked shipping companies to carry out security audit of ships periodically, focusing specifically on cyber security risks.
“Besides, we need to protect port facilities. We have asked the stakeholders to follow the guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to understand operational risks and the systems considered to be vulnerable. Shipping companies need to have a war room that could help in immediate restoration of the system crippled by the cyber terrorists,” he said.
An officer working closely with the maritime cell said due to evolving technology, it was difficult to prevent cyber attacks. However, companies could have a recovery plan ready and must have cyber security experts on board, he said. “If the navigation equipment has been infected by hackers, the security team should be able to ensure that emergency plans are in place and further damage is prevented,” he said.
According to IMO, cargo handling and management systems, access control systems, communication systems, propulsion and machinery management and power control systems are vulnerable to hacking.