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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Fleet digitalisation comes with greater cyber risks to ship systems

Wed 01 Jun 2016 by Martyn Wingrove

Fleet digitalisation comes with greater cyber risks to ship systems

With the expected digitalisation of global shipping fleets comes the growing risk from cyber threats that could enter ship systems via their satellite links. Within the next 10 years, shipowners, managers and vessel operators will be linking many more of their assets to onshore networks over satellite. They will be connecting networks of sensors on their ships to onshore computers and experts for big data analytics.

Shipowners and managers will monitor vessel and system performance, and cypher information that will impact their decision processes. They will be able to invest in condition-based maintenance schemes, fuel and trim optimisation, and improve voyage planning and weather routeing, while enhancing onboard operations. Equipment suppliers will use the data to improve performance and for designing the next generation of onboard systems. However, all this would come with the threat of hackers and malware, and other cyber threats.

DNV GL forecast a wide adoption of digital technology across fleets of ships of various types and sizes in its recently published Technology Outlook 2025 report. This provides foresight to the shipping industry to help owners and managers plan their investments. But the class society did not come up with any disruptive technologies. DNV GL predicts widespread adoption of existing technology, such as onboard sensor networks, VSAT communications, greater onshore support to crews, as well as the first steps towards autonomous operations.

DNV GL expects greater integration between physical and cyber systems controlled by software and fitted with smart sensors, enabling condition and performance monitoring, smarter maintenance, improved vessel management and remote system upgrades. Many of the benefits are described in more detail in the upcoming issue of Marine Electronics & Communications.

The cyber threats faced by shipowners and managers, and possible solutions will be presented and discussed in more detail at Riviera’s Maritime Cyber Risk Management Summit, which will be held on 21 June in London. DNV GL is one of the partners at this event and will provide insight into the opportunities and threats posed by the digitalisation of global fleets.

In the technology outlook report, DNV GL predicts a wider adoption of cyber-physical systems across shipping fleets. This is where physical onboard systems are linked to online monitoring and analytics programmes. One of the requirements for cyber-physical systems would be testing and assurance of the control software. Greater levels of testing will be needed to ensure the sensors and software are reliable enough for safe shipping operations. Technologies, such as hardware-in-the-loop testing would be needed to check the software before it is deployed, and after major software updates.

Cyber security will also be required to prevent potential attacks on ship systems. Firewalls and antivirus programs may not go far enough as threats may not be just software based. Shipowners also need to consider vulnerability and penetration testing to find the weak points in their ships. Vessel operators should not forget the crew when it comes to cyber security – guidance and training of seafarers could prevent accidental infections in the future. Whatever the solution owners and managers take, it would be far better than doing nothing. As more ship systems are linked online over satellite, they will be vulnerable to cyber threats. Owners must not hide from the risks – they need to be prepared for cyber attacks.

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