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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Cyber security: Do you have a rapid response plan?

Wed 08 Aug 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Cyber security: Do you have a rapid response plan?

Two of shipping’s highest-profile cyber attacks offer lessons in preparation says editor Martyn Wingrove

Cyber attacks can take shipping companies back to the digital Stone Age in one fell swoop. The recovery, however may not be so swift.

Last week’s cyber attack on COSCO Shipping Lines' North American operations offers a good example of a quick recovery.

On 27 July, COSCO reported a cyber attack that brought down its email system and disrupted telephone communications at its customer service centre near Los Angeles in the US.

The Chinese state-owned shipping and logistics company quickly discovered the origin of the attack, at the Port of Long Beach container terminal, and kept the malware that caused the attack physically isolated.

By doing so, COSCO managed to prevent the malware from spreading to the company’s shipping and berthing operations. Soon after, the company restored all communication channels including telephone, email and its electronic data exchange.

On 31 July, just four days after its onset, COSCO reported a full recovery from the cyber attack.

Still, while COSCO’s attack response timeline is impressive, losing four days of normal business operations to a cyber attack is not insignificant.

COSCO was reportedly working at full stretch to process service requests. At the Long Beach container terminal – the attack’s ground zero – the business emergency required employees to rely on an external Yahoo email service to conduct operations.

Comparatively, though, those employees were lucky. Just over a year earlier, a virus that hit container shipping giant AP Møller-Maersk forced the line’s tanker division to resort to pen and paper to keep the business afloat.

It looks likely that COSCO could escape its attack with a minimal cost impact, too, when compared to the Maersk attack.

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