Cyber security threats

Are you ready for the IMO legislation surrounding cyber security for yachts? Ian Petts of Equiom Monaco discusses the necessary planning and training steps required

The Maritime Safety Committee of the United Nations IMO (International Maritime Organisation), recently adopted a resolution to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in maritime safety management systems. This resolution significantly impacts the world’s superyachts and penetrates down through the yachting support industry.

Deadline looming
For yachts, any risks must be addressed no later than the first annual verification of the owning company’s document of compliance after 1 January 2021, which leaves little time to undertake an assurance test and implement any recommendations. The guidance from the IMO is compulsory for commercially registered yachts over 500 tonnes and optional for others. Smaller yachts may, however, be required to implement and address the guidance by their insurance company.

What is a cyber security assurance test?
The IMO cyber security assurance testing will typically include a threat assessment, vulnerability scan and a penetration test both from within and externally to the yacht as well as an audit of systems, policies and procedures. A detailed customised remediation plan with a roadmap costings and timing plan will then be implemented prioritising the highest risk areas.

Complexity of yacht IT systems
Today’s yachts are equipped with myriad smart, technical, entertainment systems and networks. There are several entry points for hackers on a yacht, not to mention theindirect threat via the systems of yacht management firms, the family office and supplier networks.

Indeed the often quoted Maersk cyber-attack in the shipping industry which infected 49,000 PCs, laptops and printers, was caused from hackers entering through the accounting system; a successful hack which cost Maersk ten days of lost operation and caused losses of $250-300 million.

On today’s yacht, security cameras, jacuzzi lights, navigation systems, stabilisation systems, engine management systems and anchor systems are all computer controlled and therefore at risk. It is even possible for GPS systems to be altered to cause collisions with other vessels.

Billionaires often run a family office from their yacht, with sensitive transactions, business decisions and portfolios managed on board. This is even more prevalent currently with the Covid-19 virus outbreak leading to wealthy individuals self-isolating on their yacht, perhaps without considering the cyber security implications. But this lack of planning and security could make an easy target for hackers.

The guidance from the IMO is compulsory for commercially registered yachts over 500 tonnes and optional for other smaller yachts


Importance of culture and training towards threats
It is not only the hardware and software which are important, it is building awareness and understanding of the possibility of a cyber attack among crew, yacht suppliers, the management company, the family office and anyone else involved with the yacht.

Yacht crew are very familiar with fire drills, but how many yacht and management companies have prepared for cyber attacks and regularly practice drills?
Personnel need to be trained on how to spot common cyber threats and prevent accidentally introducing a cyber risk. Anticipation is key, as well as understanding that an attack impacting the yacht is more a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
Aside from a yacht’s technology, personal devices and peripherals such as tablets, laptops and smart phones owned by crew guests, suppliers and visitors are all common malware infection points and are not always addressed in implemented policies and procedures.

Plan ahead and plan now
A cybersecurity audit is recommended, not only to meet the IMO deadline, but also to give owners, managers, captains, the family offices and charter yacht guests confidence against attacks from hostile media, opportunist hackers and organised crime.

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