Can Cosco relax after cyber attack?

The head of cyber defence firm Naval Dome has cautioned Cosco Shipping Lines the worse of the recent cyber attack may not be over.

Earlier this week the US operations of Hong Kong-listed Cosco Shipping Lines was hit by a cyber attack, apparently causing disruption to the local network. A Cosco spokesperson told Seatrade Maritime News, “It didn’t affect operations globally, only the US website and some temporary stoppage on the email and phone networks; we are gradually resuming operations.”

The epicentre of the attack seems to have been a network breakdown at Cosco’s Pier J terminal at the Port of Long Beach, with a slowdown in communications between Cosco’s US operations and its customers.

“Reports that cyber hackers have successfully attacked Cosco Shipping Line’s Long Beach customer service centre, is very worrying indeed,” said Itai Sela, chief executive at Naval Dome.

“While Cosco shut down its connections as a precautionary measure, we have to emphasise that ships are not islands, they are not self-contained units. This is a mistaken belief. Shore- and ship-operations are cyber-connected.

“If shore-based and ship-based IT systems are linked, it could open a gateway to the Cosco ships, leaving them highly susceptible to an attack. Vessels do not need to be attacked directly but an attack can arrive via the company’s shore-based IT systems and very easily penetrate the ships’ critical OT systems,” he added.

Although Cosco has been quick to respond to the hack, Naval Dome warned the virus may have been dormant for some time. “I would not be surprised if other systems – shore- and ship-based systems – have been breached,” said Mr Sela.

“This kind of attack could spread through the entire fleet and its consequences might be devastating, and certainly costly, especially in terms of insurance. We strongly recommend to whoever discovered the attack, to thoroughly verify the breach has been contained and has not infected any ships in the COSCO fleet.”

This cyber-attack, like the Maersk attacks last year, will no doubt send shockwaves throughout the industry and encourage board members to take immediate, effective action. The IMO issued its “Guidelines on Maritime Cyber Risk Management” on 5 July 2018.

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