Cyber criminals target the shipping industry, Norway warns


According to an assessment by Norwegian authorities, its maritime and oil and gas sectors have recently been victims of cyber campaigns specifically targeting companies in the US, Europe and the Middle East. For this reason, Norway advises companies to be prepared for continuous activity in the short to medium term.

As Gard Club informs, in a recent information letter to the maritime sector, the Norwegian National Security Authority (NSM) advises of an increase in the number of cyber campaigns targeting several different sectors since June 2019 and states that both the maritime sector and the oil and gas sector have been victims of such targeted attacks.

Until now, the campaigns have used social engineering techniques in e-mails and in personal messages via social media, primarily LinkedIn, but also WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to:

  • Install malware on the user’s computer;

  • Gather information about the user, their employer or other users connected to them;

  • Further spread the campaigns.

Moreover, companies in the US, Europe, and the Middle East have been the main targets, according to the NSM, which also establishes that the threat actors have presented high ability and capacity to carry out their operations.

Analyzing the current situation and the risks that have emerged, the NMS recommends companies and organisations to be prepared for attempts of cyber activity with malicious intent in the short to medium term.

It also highlights that both obvious and less obvious companies may be affected, meaning that all types of ships, as well as shipowners’, land-based infrastructure can be vulnerable to cyber incidents. In fact, in a statement of 19 August 2019, the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) pinpoints that:

Especially shipowners that operate in ISPS/MARSEC level two areas or higher should be aware of the situation

Despite the fact that NSM’s information letter is directed at Norwegian companies, Gard advises all ship operators and companies with responsibility for infrastructure on board ships to continuously monitor and review digital security and follow the recommendations made, such as:

  • Make sure networks are segmented. There should be no physical connection between administrative and operative parts of the network;

  • Log activity at all endpoints and in the network. The NSM recommends keeping logs for at least six months;

  • Use encrypted communication where possible, also between ships and land-based infrastructure. Manipulation of communication can easily be done if it is not encrypted;

  • Restrict access to information and systems in accordance with people’s position and role. Restriction of access will in most cases limit the consequences after an incident.

In addition, among the suggested counter-measures, the importance of conducting cyber securityawareness training is highlighted. All ‘users’, including seafarers, shore staff and other relevant personnel, should also:

  • Be aware of, and be critical to, emails with links or attachments. If there are any doubts whether an attachment or a link is safe to open, assess whether it is necessary to open it at all.

  • Report suspicious emails or messages that relate to the company to your employer.

  • Be careful with documents that suggest enabling macros in Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Regarding social media, operators must:

  • Report suspicious messages received through social media, in particular if they can be connected to your employment or the company in general;

  • Establish and maintain contact only with people whose identity can be verified;

  • Be very critical to messages with links and attachments in social media, this is the new target arena;

  • Expect that everyone can see all information shared on social media about work and your private life;

  • Do not publish work-related information without the consent of your employer;

  • Do not publish information about other individuals without their consent;

  • Enable available security settings in products and applications;

  • Do not reuse the same password across services;

  • Become a Security STAR: Every time you suspect an attack or are unsure of what to do, Stop - Think - Ask - Report.

What is more, ship operators should also be vigilant for any cyber security advice provided by their national security authorities.Regarding Norwegian companies, they are recommended to follow the NSM’s “Fundamental principles for information and communications technology (ICT) security” as well as its “Measures and recommendations concerning social media”.

Gard also suggests ship operators and seafarers to report all suspicious activity and breaches of security to their flag administrations and/or national security authorities, as this will support their work to monitor ongoing cyber threats and risks.

Ship operators are also reminded that cyber risks must be appropriately addressed in ships’ existing safety management systems, as defined in the ISM Code, no later than the first annual ISM audit after 1 January 2021. Guidelines and best practices for implementation of cyber risk management are described in IMO’s MSC-FAL.1/Circ.3, as well as in the industry guidelines “Cyber security onboard ships

Gard concludes.

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