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Maritime Port Cybersecurity: Digital Evolution & Challenges


Taking into consideration the increased digital transformation of the maritime port ecosystems, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) released a report, aptly named ‘Port Cybersecurity’, to highlight cyber security challenges faced by the Maritime Sector.

With the emergence of new threats, regulations and increased digitalization, today’s Port stakeholders are faced with increasing cybersecurity challenges. The main purpose of this study is to build a baseline of best practises to ensure the cybersecurity of port systems and services, in careful consideration of relevant cybersecurity challenges and threats.

Maritime Port Cybersecurity: Background

The global digitalization trend and current policies and regulations require ports to face new challenges with respect to information technology. Ports form a unique and essential link in the supply chain and gateways that bring goods to market, making them absolutely essential to the economy. They both directly and indirectly spur and promote economic development in industries that rely on them to ship their goods to the global market to grow their businesses. Every aspect of transportation supply is in someway connected to the work that happens at ports every day. Digitalization brings along new stakes and challenges for ports in the area of cybersecurity, for both information technology and operations.

The Report

Major cyber incidents including ransomware attacks targeting ports, have a significant impact on the economy. As a result, ports must consider cybersecurity as a top priority to ensure their commercial competitiveness, compliance, and security as they undergo their digital transformation.

Key Threats facing Maritime Ports

Maritime Ports are faced with a number of cybersecurity challenges, below are some of the possible impacts of a cybersecurity event for a port.

  1. Shutdown of operations, complete port paralysis

  2. Human injury or death, human trafficking

  3. Theft of Critical Data

  4. Theft of Cargo and Goods

  5. Illegal Trafficking (drugs, wanted individuals, prohibited goods, arms)

  6. Financial loss

  7. Systems damages, or destruction

  8. Tarnished reputation, and a subsequent loss of competitiveness

  9. Environmental disaster (gas explosion, oil spill, pollution, shipwrecks)

Where ports have traditionally been concerned with physical security and safety, they must now integrate cybersecurity as a part of their global strategy. The report’s aim is to provide port authorities and terminal operators with a comprehensive set of good practices.

Key Findings

The report contains an extensive set of security measures that port authorities and terminal operators should adopt to establish a solid security baseline. The basic measures, identified below, intend to serve as a list of good practises for people responsible for cybersecurity implementation in Port Authorities and Terminal Operators.

  1. Define a clear governance around cybersecurity art the port level, involving all stakeholders involved in port operations.

  2. Enforce the technical cybersecurity basics, including network segmentation, patch updates management, password hardening, etc.

  3. Consider security by design in applications, especially as ports use a variety of systems, some of which are exposed to third parties for data exchange.

  4. Enforce detection and response capabilities art port level to react to a cyberattack as fast as possible, before it impacts port operations, safety and security.

In addition to providing a foundation to port authorities and terminal operators to build their cybersecurity strategy on, the report is also very useful for other port stakeholders, such as shipping companies and maritime policy makers. For these parties, the report aims to:

  1. List the main cybersecurity challenges that port stakeholders are facing today and are likely to face in the future and define a complete threat taxonomy, listing the different threats and their potential impacts.

  2. Describe cyberattack scenarios that port ecosystems could face if impacted by cyberattacks that have already occurred in the maritime sector.

  3. Establish a high-level reference model describing port systems and the data flows between them and other external systems.

  4. Identify main port infrastructure and services and establish an overview of stakeholders involved in port ecosystems and define a comprehensive asset taxonomy.

  5. Provide a list of cybersecurity measures that highlight best practises and assist in the improvement of cybersecurity maturity of port ecosystems.

Summing Up

The digital transformation is one of the largest challenges of the port system today. Certainly, ports will increasingly rely on the adoption of IT and OT to be more and more competitive, adapt to new policies and regulations and to adapt to new maritime assets. Those individuals responsible for port cybersecurity are encouraged to adopt and go beyond the proposed recommendations in the ENISA report. Additionally, raising awareness about cybersecurity at all levels of staffing, sharing information amongst port operators and addressing cybersecurity in the supply chain will all aid in the overall cyberthreat management process.

For information on anything you read here, or to learn how Packetlabs can simplify the cybersecurity process for your organization, please contact us.