Thwarting Sea-Based Cyber Attacks


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Cyber vulnerabilities have long been acknowledged against commercial maritime vessels, but the targeting of new naval systems – whether for navigation, engine and steering control, or commanding emerging autonomous surface and submersible drones – could become a new component of warfare, according to

Defense industry IT firms have been emphasizing emerging methods of detecting and thwarting sea-based cyberattacks as the US Navy advances a full-fledged investigation into what caused the recent collision between a US destroyer and Liberian-flagged merchant vessel, which killed 10 Navy sailors.

While the Navy has not identified cyberattack or any kind of IT malfunction as a possible reason for the incident, many experts suspect some sort of a maritime cyber incident. While there are a number of factors that could lead to such incidents – a malicious digital interference in the maritime navigational systems could have contributed to the collision.

As a result, a European firm called Balabit is currently working with several US NATO allies regarding the implementation of a maritime-focused cybersecurity technology based on biometrics. The firm plans to introduce its technology to the US military.

The technology uses unique user keystroke patterns to track and identify precise movement and typing characteristics of a specific credentialed user, according to

“We are able to set up a baseline for a unique user based on his keystrokes, something which is unique for all users. Detecting deviation from the baseline helps us know credentials were stolen,” said Csaba Krasznay, Balabit security executive.

The activity of computer users on the ocean can be shadowed by cybersecurity experts to identify potential cyber theft, attempted intrusions or malicious activity. Krasznay explained that potential intruders are likely to seek access to sensitive ship navigation technology, data systems or on-board command-and-control networks. Ship-based navigational systems are particularly vulnerable, he said.

“In many ways, maritime is not really different from any other outdoor sectors. However, the sector is not as aware of cyber issues. There are no compliance requirements and no threats that have resulted in the implementation of a cyber framework,” Krasznay added.