Has Shipping Become Too Dependent On Technology For Its Own Good?

On the 27th of June, 2017, computer systems in Ukraine began to malfunction. Computer screens were locked to a red screen with instructions to the users to pay up in Bitcoins to ensure the safety of the files on their computers. Within hours, banks, railways, airports, even the monitoring station at Chernobyl were affected.

No sooner had the attacks begun to affect Ukraine’s infrastructure, than it had started to spread around the world; companies with offices and computers in Ukraine now found themselves infected globally. The transport industries in particular spread the virus globally; Maersk Shipping was one of the hardest hit by the attack.

On the 28th of June, 2017, the Ukrainian government announced they had halted the attack. Unsurprisingly, they blamed Russia. Unsurprisingly, Russia denied all responsibility.

Cyber-security measures failed big companies like Maersk

Whatever the source, and whatever the purpose of such an attack, it is important to recognise that following the second major cyberattack to have global effects this year, that cyber security must become a priority of paramount importance in a globalised world in which we depend on our IT systems to maintain communications.

Whether it is a government targeting another government, or a company targeting another company, or even a disgruntled computer wizard from his own basement, the use of cyberattacks as a way of manipulation and disruption will only continue to increase as the internet’s use becomes more heavily relied upon.

The virus hits Maersk

When the 27th of June cyber-attack reached the computers at Maersk and spread around the world, its operations were halted; ships were left out of port and logistics were delayed worldwide. According to Maersk, 76 ports around the world were not able to operate under the automated crane systems they have; these had to be operated manually and delays stacked up as a result. Although Maersk released a statement saying, ‘Maersk Line vessels are manoeuvrable, able to communicate and crews are safe’, the major disruption in operations was felt all along its large and complex logistic supply chains around the world.

Reuters reported the head of Precious Shipping – one of the largest dry dock ports in Thailand – Khalid Hashim as saying, ‘Maersk is about 18 percent of all container trade, can you imagine the panic this must be causing in the logistic chain of all those cargo owners all over the world? … Right now none of them know where any of their cargoes (or) containers are. And this ‘black hole’ of lack of knowledge will continue till Maersk are able to bring back their systems on line.”

Even now, weeks after the June 27 cyber-attack, that ‘black hole of knowledge’ is still trying to be filled as Maersk is still in damage control and trying to recover missing files and track lost shipments to make up for this severe disruption to its systems.

The shipping industry is vulnerable, and always will be

The attacks have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the shipping industry to Cyber-attacks. More and more computerisation is replacing manual technology and this means that the very mechanics of the industry are open to attack. But can this be rectified?

Unfortunately, in this day and age, computerised technology has become integral to keep up with the increase of world trade and consumption; 90% of world trade is carried out through seaways, and Maersk is the largest corporation in the shipping world. It is obvious then that the shipping industry has become too reliant on technology for its own good, as highlighted by its vulnerability to the mass disruptions caused by the 27th June cyber-attack, but there is no turning back of the clock to the days prior to computerisation.

The world has changed, and so too has technology and those that seek to disrupt the technology for their own benefit – sometimes unintentionally. No matter what the technology the shipping industry uses, it will always be vulnerable to many different factors; in the past when cranes, dockyards, logistics hubs etc. were completely crewed by men without computers, industrial actions would cause similar disruptions.

Now, with automated technology taking the place of many manual jobs in the shipping industry and the storing files and tracking logistics on computers, cyber-attacks have become the new potential threat which could strike at any moment.

Shipping needs modernised technology to protect it

The shipping industry has become far too reliant on technology for its own good, but then again so has every other industry. As industry empires like Maersk grow around the world they need to keep up with the huge demand that is placed upon their services – and to stay ahead of their competitors.

The shipping industry’s very nature leaves it open to disruptions no matter what technology is used. In the new cyber war era, with governments and companies targeting one another not openly, but through cyber-attacks, it is increasingly likely that a targeted attack can get out of hand and lead to widespread global disruptions (this year wasn’t the first time, if you research ‘Stuxnet’ you will see how this can affect almost every computer in the world).

The best course forward is surely to invest more time and money into the development, research, and execution of more advanced cyber security measures.

Drop us a line

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any queries

69, Patri Felicjan Bilocca Street, Marsa, Malta | Tel: +356 2180 4746 | Chat with us: