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Protecting Your Ship From Cyber Threats

At sea, danger increasingly presents itself as cyber security threats and attacks on connectivity. Risky behaviors and points of access are endless, from emails, social media and personal devices to password protection, trust and access issues. One security strategy that can help prevent cyber threats is risk reduction.

Risk reduction focuses on participating in activities but taking actions to mitigate potential losses. In this scenario, the ship sails, and all operations take place, but precautions improve odds for success.

Whether a ship is at sea, in port or dry-docked, risk reduction is the overriding element vital to effective cybersecurity, but it’s neither simple nor easy.

Addressing Risk Reduction

Protecting maritime communications and other ship assets from cyber threats is both a complex and the routine part of on-board existence. In short, risk reduction’s two functions remain technical and procedural. Only by fully integrating the two can you ensure that your ship has the most robust cyber security defense possible.

Incorporating Technical Cyber Security Measures

While technical cybersecurity measures can be initially more expensive than procedural ones, they’re often also easier to implement. Technical measures focus on securing equipment and data systems by strengthening the networks themselves, often incorporating access controls and checkpoints. The most effective controls:

  • Limit access to network systems by requiring logins and passwords, maintaining access lists, securing routers, eliminating unused ports and restricting physical access to equipment and supporting cable runs.

  • Separate and protect critical network operations with layers of firewalls, routers and switches.

  • Restrict user profiles to ensure users have access to only the information they need on the systems they have access to. The ability to install new programs, enable access or disable users should reside only with senior system administrators.

  • Secure radio and satellite communications. Ship owners are responsible for accessing legitimate uplinks and securing these systems from incoming cyber attacks.

  • Install scanning antivirus and malware software on all ship computers.

  • Include secure backup and data recovery systems to accurately restore otherwise compromised information.

  • Develop or incorporate an intrusion detection or prevention system that identifies potentially malicious data flows or usage outliers in baseline network operations.

  • Implement patch updates to system software on a regular basis to prevent cyber attackers from exploiting flaws in the ship’s system.

Integrating Procedural Cyber Security Measures

Of course, all technical measures depend on the human factor, which is where procedural cyber security measures play a vital role in protecting the ship’s data assets and systems. Procedural controls determine not only how the people use a ship’s system, but also how they think about that access. That’s why the first recommendation is listed first:

  • Invest in training and awareness for all personnel – not only those on-board but also those ashore in support or management functions, to include third parties involved in operations.

  • Update equipment and software for all systems regularly, especially anti-virus and malware tools as well as firewalls, routers and switches.

  • Restrict administrator access privileges to unique, individualized permissions based on current need to know and responsibility sets.

  • Establish policy and safety checks for removable media and data transfers, especially in the context of critical versus non-critical data and data exchange with non-secure third party systems.

  • Set protocols to destroy sensitive data before discarding or selling old equipment.

  • Plan and arrange for contingency cyber technical support in advance.

Developing a Maritime Cyber Security Strategy

Because ships have so many different types of systems and system users – and therefore nearly exponential numbers of cyber threats – the challenge to reducing risk immediately becomes how to even begin. A three-step strategy can help:

  1. Prioritize your cybersecurity needs. Address your ship’s most critical functions, and target those that are most essential, most vulnerable or most beneficial to your mission.

  2. Delegate specific cybersecurity responsibilities to appointed dedicated technology and operational security officers who will be part of your cybersecurity management team.

  3. Cultivate a culture of active awareness and personal cyber accountability.

Partnering With BlueTide Communications for Cyber Security VSAT Services

Effective cyber security takes more than one decision-maker or one solo security officer. Risk reduction demands attention and care on the part of every person who comes in contact with any system associated with your ship. To increase the security for your onboard network, call BlueTide Communications at 337-205-6710, or contact us through our website.


Information used in this blog conforms to the recommendations offered in The Guidelines on Cyber Security Onboard Ships published by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO) and International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO).

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