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What is Maritime Cybersecurity?

What is Maritime Cybersecurity?

Maritime cybersecurity refers to the practices, technologies, and policies used to protect ships, shipping infrastructure, and associated industries from cyber threats and attacks. Cybersecurity in maritime focuses on unique challenges including the protection of onboard navigation systems, communication networks, and operational technologies that are essential for the safety and efficiency of operations.

Maritime cybersecurity integrates both Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) to secure vessels from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats. Given the unique nature of OT devices, cybersecurity solutions chosen to protect maritime infrastructure are often purpose made for environments that include OT.

Why Maritime Cybersecurity is Important?

The importance of maritime cybersecurity stems from the critical role that the maritime industry plays in global trade and logistics. Approximately 90% of the world's goods are transported by sea, making maritime security crucial for economic stability and safety. Cyber threats in this sector can lead to significant disruptions, including:

  • Navigation and communication systems getting compromised, leading to potential collisions or groundings.
  • Unauthorized access to confidential cargo data and other sensitive information.
  • Operational disruptions that can cause economic losses and impact the supply chain.
  • Increased vulnerability to piracy and terrorism due to compromised security systems.

Given these high consequences, Shipping companies are faced with a range of maritime-specific regulations, including the Maritime Cyber Risk Management and the IMO guidelines, as well as guidelines from the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), and the Cruising Lines International Association (CLIA).

This breadth of ever-changing regulations requires a dynamic cyber security solution which can self-learn and provide real-time detection, visibility, and response across the digital ecosystem.

Cybersecurity Challenges for Maritime

The shipping and navigation industry is exposed to a wide range of cyber-attack vectors, with businesses relying on a complex web of systems - from smart devices on remote vessels to IT systems onshore. This includes OT systems used to steer ships and load cargo, with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) involved in the engine control room and navigation lights.

To fuel efficiency, many maritime organizations have integrated their OT and IT systems. But, the sector’s fast-moving digitization and robotization has exponentially increased the number of entry points for cyber-criminals.

While IT and OT convergence opens the door to new risks, it also represents an opportunity to begin approaching security with a holistic mindset in which the entire digital business can be defended in a coordinated capacity.

Common Cyber Threats in Maritime Cybersecurity

  1. Phishing and Spear-Phishing Attacks: These involve deceptive emails and messages designed to trick maritime staff into revealing sensitive information or downloading malware. Phishing attacks can lead to unauthorized access to the ship’s systems and sensitive data.
  2. Malware and Ransomware: Malicious software can be used to disrupt the operations of onboard systems, steal sensitive data, or lock out legitimate users, often demanding a ransom to restore access. Ships are particularly vulnerable when they integrate their systems with port and logistics services that may not have robust cybersecurity measures.
  3. GPS Spoofing: Attackers may manipulate GPS signals to mislead maritime navigation systems about the vessel's location or route. This could potentially lead to accidents or unauthorized detours.
  4. Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks: These attacks overload a ship’s networks with traffic, making them unable to process legitimate requests and potentially leading to operational failures.
  5. Unauthorized Access and Insider Threats: Unauthorized access can occur through inadequate security measures, allowing hackers or even insiders to manipulate or steal data. Insider threats also include sabotage by disgruntled employees who have access to the systems.
  6. Ransomware Attacks: These occur when malware encrypts a victim's files, making them inaccessible unless a ransom is paid. In the maritime industry, ransomware can lock down navigation systems, access to digital logs, or other critical data, severely disrupting maritime operations.
  7. Supply Chain Compromises: This threat involves a malicious actor infiltrating the maritime industry through less-secure elements in the supply chain. For example, a compromised software update or hardware component can be used to gain access to wider network systems used in maritime operations.
  8. Data Breaches: Unauthorized access to confidential data can be devastating. For maritime operations, this could involve access to cargo details, ship schedules, or personal information of crew members, potentially leading to operational manipulations or piracy.
  9. Impersonation: Attackers may pose as legitimate users or officials to gain access to secure systems. In maritime settings, impersonation could involve posing as port officials, ship inspectors, or other entities that have authorized access to sensitive operational data.
  10. Social Engineering: Social engineering is a technique used by cyber-criminals to manipulate the humans behind machines rather than exploiting code-based vulnerabilities. This can be done by impersonating legitimate parties, targeting vulnerable individuals, building trust with a victim, creating a sense of urgency in a message, and more. Social engineering can be used to enhance phishing, smishing, spoofing, or other cyber-attacks that target humans. Because humans are susceptible to trusting other humans, the goal of social engineering is to present the victim with a seemingly legitimate situation.

Maritime cyber-attack examples

Stopping Malware in its Tracks

Darktrace protected a maritime transportation and storage cargo handling organization in Greenland from a fast-moving malware attack. After being infected, a device was detected making new and unusual external connections on ports 85 and 88. During the activity, the device downloaded octet files, uploaded unusual volumes of data, and used new user agents.

Darktrace identified every stage of this attack and immediately notified the organization’s security team via a high-priority Proactive Threat Notification. It alerted the team when the device downloaded suspicious files and when it uploaded data to a rare endpoint. If Darktrace RESPOND had been active, this malicious activity would have been blocked and neutralized in seconds.

Zoom Video Conferencing Impersonation With Phishing Link

At an inland freight water transport company in the EMEA region, Self-Learning AI caught a sophisticated Zoom impersonation phishing attack. Since the start of the pandemic, users have relied on Zoom to conduct their business remotely, and Zoom emails are constantly being sent and received.

Darktrace/Email identified subtle anomalies that revealed the email to be a sophisticated phishing attempt. The phishing link itself used a legitimate engineering company domain to bypass secure email gateways and was hidden beneath the display text: "Preview Meeting Details Here".

Taking a closer look at the encoded URI, Darktrace/Email automatically decoded the link and identified that it led to a fake Microsoft login page.

Darktrace/Email held the email back from the recipient’s inbox, preventing a credential compromise which could have been used to gather sensitive business data or send additional malicious emails from a corporate account.

Best Practices for Maritime Cybersecurity Solutions

To defend against the steps outlined in the Cyber Kill Chain, maritime organizations should consider the following best practices:

  • Segmentation of Networks: Divide the network into separate segments to contain potential breaches and make lateral movements harder for attackers.
  • Regular Penetration Testing: Regularly test system security to identify and address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers.
  • Advanced Threat Detection: Implement systems that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect unusual behavior that may indicate a cyber threat.
  • User Education and Awareness: Regularly train all employees on cybersecurity best practices and the latest phishing tactics.
  • Incident Response Plan: Develop and regularly update an incident response plan to ensure quick action and mitigation if a breach occurs.
  • Update and Patch Management: Keep all systems updated with the latest patches to minimize vulnerabilities.
  • Physical Security: Ensure physical security of critical systems, especially those accessible from outside the ship or port facilities.

Darktrace Cybersecurity Solution for Maritime Cybersecurity

Darktrace/OT is the most comprehensive Prevention, Detection, and Response solution purpose built for Operational Technology (OT). It is the only OT cybersecurity solution that natively covers IT and OT providing visibility of OT, IoT, and IT assets in unison encompassing network and cloud-connected IT systems to specialized OT assets, achieving greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.

Using Self-Learning AI technology Darktrace/OT is the industry’s only OT security solution to scale bespoke risk management, threat detection, and response with a significant time saving from triage to recovery. This provides engineering and security teams with confidence to evaluate workflows, maintain security posture, and effectively mitigate risks from a unified platform without productivity loss.

Darktrace’s AI adapts to changes in a vessel or port’s OT and IT ecosystems without the need for configuration or fine tuning. Protocol and technology agnostic, it spots threats regardless of their source or the specific technology affected — including PLCs, SCADA, HMI, IIoT, and the range of bespoke ICS employed in the maritime industry.

Key Benefits of Darktrace/OT: Read the Solution Brief to learn more

Asset management: Darktrace Asset Identification offers both active and passive scanning to identify devices for foundational technical information (MAC Address, Vendor, Firmware version, Model,etc.) and vulnerability data (CVEs and End-Of-Life status). The data is pulled into different interactive visualizations for security teams to explore the relationship between devices and quickly determine location and status, then guides security workflows with real time activity monitoring to accurately visualize live OT operations and relevant IT infrastructure, unlimited by visibility into only OT.

Risk Management: Darktrace/OT is the industry’s first OT Risk Management solution to go beyond simple vulnerability scoring (CVE/ CVSS), generating bespoke Risk Analysis. Darktrace/OT combines its unique understanding of IT, OT, CVE data, and MITRE techniques, to map the critical attack paths across your infrastructure, contextualize risk and then identify and prioritize remediation and mitigation that based on the difficulty, exposure, and impact of a vulnerability most effectively reduce risk associated with your environment.

Anomaly-based detection: Unlike all other approaches to OT security that rely on a constant stream known of threat data, Darktrace/OT leverages Self-Learning AI to understand your normal business operations, allowing you to detect anything that deviates from normal. This makes it possible to spot insider, known, unknown, and zero-day threats at scale. Because we work based on your raw network data, Darktrace can be safely implemented to provide a consolidated view into OT or both OT and IT environments without internet or external connectivity.

AI-Led Investigation: Darktrace immediately understands, identifies, and investigates all anomalous activity in OT networks, whether human or machine driven and uses Explainable AI to generate investigation reports via Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst. These auto-generated reports reduce triage and investigation time of threats, automatically investigating all threats across IT and OT, prioritizing critical incidents, and summarizing findings upskilling your IT and OT practitioners.

Autonomous Response: Darktrace distinguishes itself by working hands on with organizations to leverage its comprehensive understanding of network behavior to initiate precise responses only as permitted by end users. These responses are entirely optional and highly configurable beginning with prompting human confirmation before taking action.

Deployment: In our unified view we can deploy devices into your environment whether IT, DMZ, OT, Cloud, or all the above, providing local monitoring no matter where your operational technology infrastructure is.

By integrating these practices and solutions, maritime companies can enhance their defensive posture against the evolving landscape of cyber threats. This strategic focus on cybersecurity is essential not only for protecting infrastructure but also for safeguarding the public and the environment from potential harm. Ensuring robust cyber security for utilities and energy companies is not just a technical requirement but a fundamental aspect of national security and public well-being.

See why Maritime companies trust Darktrace

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