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Keeping the digital ship safe

Modern bunker 'barges' are in reality high tech ships with increasingly sophisticated electronic systems on board

At the cutting edge of these rapid developments is the bridge, and a new guide is intended to help seafarers keep up with the latest best practice for bridge technologies designed for the digital age. 

February 10, 2022

The recently launched edition of the Bridge Procedures Guide from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) reflects the rapid technological advances taking place in the shipping industry. It is aimed at providing crews with the knowledge and confidence they need to deal with the digital transformation taking place within the world fleet.

 

“I’ve seen navigation equipment that I sailed with on display in Hamburg’s maritime museum. Now you walk onto the bridge and it’s like Star Wars,” says Nick Rich, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement’s Group Technical Manager – Systems and a member of the expert panel that helped ICS develop the new edition.

 

However this high level of dependency on electronic systems comes with increased vulnerability to criminal attacks.

 

According to transnational anti-crime agency Europol, accelerated digitalisation related to the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted the development of a number of cyber threats. The new edition of Europol’s Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment notes that criminals have been “quick to abuse the current circumstances to increase profits, spreading their tentacles to various areas and exposing vulnerabilities, connected to systems, hospitals or individuals”.

 

There is almost no information available on to what extent the global shipping industry may have been hit by ransomware attacks or other cyber crime. What is clear, though, is that shipping is becoming more and more dependent on information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). And the bunker industry operates some very expensive technology-dependent assets.

 

A recent, and fairly typical, press release talked of a “user-friendly solution that automates and integrates control, alarm and monitoring of critical systems on board”. As we move more into LNG bunkering the idea of malware wandering around in critical systems hardly bears thinking about.

However thinking about it, and doing something, is essential. Last year a large group of shipping organisations published Version 4 of their Guidelines on Cyber Security Onboard Ships. This publication aims to assist in the development of a proper cyber risk management strategy in accordance with relevant regulations and best practises on board a ship with a focus on work processes, equipment, training, incident response and recovery management.


The guidelines explain why and how cyber risks should be managed in a shipping context. The supporting documentation required to conduct a risk assessment is listed, and the risk assessment process is outlined with an explanation of the part played by each component of cyber risk.

 

The guidelines ought to assist in developing a company’s cyber security strategy, but are probably less useful for the master of a bunker barge, under time pressure and needing practical guidance.

 

Another recent publication is aimed at providing just that sought guidance. BIMCO, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Witherby Publishing Group put out the latest, third, edition of the “Cyber Security Workbook for On Board Ship Use”.

 

This workbook is intended to provide the practical knowledge to identify cyber risks and to protect vulnerable onboard systems. It also gives guidance on how best to detect, respond and recover in the event of a cyber attack.

 

According to ICS the workbook will help to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in the onboard safety management system, which is required by IMO regulations.

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