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Information Sharing: The Key to Improving Port Cyber Operations

Attacks in the maritime environment are no longer limited to physical battles between warring ships at sea, piracy and major storms. Today, maritime ports and vessels must grapple with an equally pernicious foe: cyber threats. Cyber experts warn that malicious actors can take control of ships’ navigations systems, industrial control systems at ports, cargo management systems, and communications.

These systems play a crucial role in the operations of maritime ports, which serve as the economic engine of the US transportation industry. Ninety percent of global commerce moves by sea, and the nation’s maritime ports handle more than $1.3 trillion in cargo each year. Consequently, cyber risk is becoming an increasingly significant concern.

Fred Roberts, director of the Command, Control and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) University Center of Excellence, explained to Homeland Security Today, “Computer networks control some of the most important critical infrastructure in the world. This includes power systems, water supply systems, air traffic control, building control systems and transportation systems. This infrastructure is vulnerable to failures of computer systems or deliberate cyber attacks, and the concern about such attacks has been widely discussed.”

The vulnerabilities

“What is not so well known are the specific vulnerabilities of today’s marine transportation system to cyber attacks,” Roberts said. “The vulnerabilities extend to shipboard systems, port operations, cargo handling systems and even drilling rigs.”

Failures of these systems could result in the disruption of key port operations, which could have a major impact on national security and the economy by interfering with the flow of commerce.

In July 2013, University of Texas researchers successfully used a GPS spoofing device to take control of a ship’s navigation system and change the vessel’s direction. The ease with which the team was able to take control of the vessel highlights the vulnerability of the transportation sector to such attacks. “We steered the White Rose of Drachs, an 80-million-dollar superyacht, several kilometers off course without any of the instruments on the bridge raising an alarm,” Todd Humphreys, who led the experiment, told Homeland Security Today.

Humphreys explained that as the transportation sector becomes increasingly automated, it is important that velocity sensing is incorporated into vehicles, saying, “Our research shows that out-of-the-box GPS is not trustworthy, and our most recent work calls into question civil radar and lidar sensing as well. Secure perception for autonomous cars, ships, and unmanned aerial vehicles will be an interesting and important problem going forward.”

Read the complete report in the April 2016 issue of Homeland Security Today

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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