Cyber Security Risks on the Rise as Maritime Embraces Digitalisation

Cyber Security Risks on the Rise as Maritime Embraces Digitalisation

As vessels and ports become increasingly digitalised, it is crucial to note the increased risk of cyber-attacks within the maritime industry.

With the increased prevalence of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), within both ports and vessels, it is inevitable that there is an ongoing and increased risk of cyber-attacks in shipping.  The digitalisation of ports and integration of more advanced technology into a vessel’s Operational Technology (OT), risks compromising its safety and navigational capabilities.

Despite the benefits of integrating more advanced technology into the maritime industry, such as optimising shipping processes, from order and inventory management to logistics, according to DNV research, only 33% of the maritime industry are confident that their cyber security for their OTs is as strong as their IT cyber security.  This integration of advanced technology, coupled with the lack of appropriate cyber security measurements, presents the maritime industry as a viable victim for cyber criminals for the hijacking of communication systems, navigation, cargo management or engine monitoring and control on vessels.

Integrating AI into the maritime industry presents a range of potential benefits, from streamlining navigational routes and strengthening communications and transparency between vessels and ports.  However, it also introduces significant security risks, from cyber security vulnerabilities to disruptions to standard operational procedures.  One of the main risks with the use of AI within the maritime industry is that through the integration of AI into navigation, communications and control systems, individuals are able to exploit these systems, compromising vessel navigation, and more crucially vessel safety. 

As AI depends on data to learn and make decisions, it is crucial that the data utilised for training AI models is precise, comprehensive and impartial.  If these criteria aren’t met, it could result in the AI model making inaccurate and uninformed decisions, posing potential risks to vessel reliability and safety.  Meticulous attention to the quality and diversity of training data is essential in ensuring effective and trustworthy integration of AI into the maritime industry.

Another issue that comes with the data input for AI systems to learn from is that the data entered is based on previous experiences.  As such, it could be argued that AI systems wouldn’t be able to account for unforeseen or unprecedented situations, something the maritime industry is accustomed to.  This, again, presents the issue of AI making inaccurate or flawed decisions, and thus putting vessel and port safety and security at risk.

So how can these key challenges of integrating AI into the maritime industry be reduced or mitigated?  Firstly, there needs to be robust cyber security measures in place.  This means implementing protocols and regulations, consisting of regular assessments to safeguard the maritime industry against cyber threats.  Additionally, there needs to be collaboration between AI and human-input, requiring a holistic approach, amalgamating AI systems with human oversight, encouraging the acknowledgement of ethical considerations and mitigating the over-reliance on AI systems to ensure safety.

Finally, there is a need for adaptation, encouraging the innovation and reshaping of cyber security protocols in line with the ongoing development of technology.  This, again, requires the balancing of AI systems and human interaction to ensure that AI systems are integrated with the acknowledgement of developments in cyber security threats.

Considering the rising digitalisation in the maritime industry, alongside the growing risk of cyber threats and potential risk to life, cargo, and operations, there is a divide between the industry’s exposure to AI integration and the existing measures to protect the industry against cyber threats.  In order to mitigate these risks, there is a need for more extensive cyber security safeguards within the maritime industry.

Andrew Yarwood
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