Piracy on the high seas is as big a threat as ever. Blackbeard may no longer be yo-ho-hoing across the Caribbean, but shipping is still being targeted by pirates. Not by crews of brigands sailing galleons and flying the skull and crossbones. But by sophisticated cyber criminals.
Instead of a cutlass the modern day pirate relies on hacking skills. And gets away with more ill-gotten gains than Blackbeard could ever have dreamed of.
Shipping giant Maersk are one company counting the cost of piracy. They recently issued an interim report showing the NotPetra cyber-attack earlier this year could cost them over £150million. Such was the impact of the virus the company had to shut down some of its port terminals.
Maersk CEO Søren Skou said: “In the last week of the quarter we were hit by a cyber-attack, which mainly impacted Maersk Line, APM Terminals and Damco. Business volumes were negatively affected for a couple of weeks in July and as a consequence, our Q3 results will be impacted. We expect the cyber-attack will impact results negatively by USD 200-300m.” Unsurprisingly the company are now upgrading their IT security.
More hacked off shipping companies
Another shipping business lost millions when pirates hacked into its finance departments emails. For months payments for fuel were diverted into the hackers bank accounts. The hack was only discovered when a specialist cyber-security firm were brought in to investigate.
Other pirates, who actually took to the waves, found another way to target shipping. They first hacked into the cargo company’s database to find the most valuable cargo. They then boarded the vessel at sea and located the targeted containers through barcodes.
A catastrophe waiting to happen?
It isn’t just the computer systems in the shipping offices which are at risk. The ships themselves are vulnerable to ever more sophisticated pirates.
A container ship was recently disabled through a virus. The malware shut down the vessels switchboard which controls the power supply to the propeller. The 80,000 tonne ship was inoperable until the virus was removed.
Could be trouble at sea
There are over 50,000 commercial shipping vessels. Together they move 90% of the world’s trade. Those ships being exposed to cyber-piracy could have disastrous consequences.
Pirates may soon have the ability to take control of a ship’s navigational systems. They could even run it aground or into a collision with another vessel. But, it isn’t just container ships at risk.
Imagine the damage to the world’s economy if pirates could hack into and remotely control a fleet of oil tankers. The pirates could literally demand a king’s ransom. It’s enough to make Blackbeard turn in his grave.