How to deal with one of the biggest threats in a commercial marine business is vital, says Patrick Chown, owner and president of The Network Installers, which specialises in installing network and structured cabling, fibre optics and other technology.

Patrick Chown

Patrick Chown

Understanding risk and making plans

Cybersecurity is a growing critical issue for commercial maritime businesses in the modern digital age, and this is not limited to large container ships and cruise liners.

With more and more digital systems being integrated into smaller boats and specialized vessels, it’s important to take steps to protect your business and customer data from cyber threats.

The first are to understand what the risks are and develop plans to avoid them.

In maritime, common risks include unauthorized access to sensitive data; disruption of operations, which could lead to delays, lost productivity, and even financial loss; and damage to reputation.

Carry out regular risk assessments to identify where your digital systems are vulnerable, and implement security controls like firewalls and intrusion detection systems, as well as anti-virus software. And with all of it, train staff – they are, after all, your first line of defence.

One area that often gets missed is password strength, so make those hard to guess and change them regularly. More firms are now using multi-factor authentication tools, such as fingerprints, as well as passwords, to strengthen it even more.

And if certain data are particularly sensitive – limit access to it: under the principle of ‘least privilege’, users should only have the access and privileges necessary to perform their specific job tasks, and no more.

It’s a good idea to put in place a set of procedures to use to respond to a cyber attack.

Establish an incident response team, identify key contacts in the organization, document procedures for responding to an incident and regularly test and update the plan.

 Staying up to date

Keeping software and systems up to date is one of the most effective ways to protect against cyber threats. This includes both the operating systems and applications running on your vessels, as well as any remote access systems used to manage them.

Install security updates and patches as soon as they become available, and consider using automated tools to manage software updates and patching. Regularly review and update the software and systems in use on your vessels to ensure they are still supported by the vendor.

Regularly backing up data is essential to minimize data loss in case of a cyber attack. Use a cloud-based backup service, schedule backups to occur automatically at regular intervals, and test your backups regularly to ensure they are working as intended.

Monitoring your systems for unusual activity is an important step in detecting cyber-attacks. Use intrusion detection and prevention systems, use security information and event management (SIEM) software, and regularly review logs and alerts.

Protecting physical network infrastructure

It’s not only cyber threats that can harm your network infrastructure and hardware. Here are some best practices for protecting your physical network infrastructure and hardware:

· Secure physical access: limit access to the physical location of your network infrastructure and hardware to authorized personnel only. This can include using locks, security cameras, and access controls. Use conduits to conceal ethernet cables connecting various devices

· Use tamper-evident seals

· Use environmental controls to protect your infrastructure and hardware from extreme temperatures, humidity or other environmental factors

· Regularly carry out inspections

· Conduct regular security audits.

Finally, consider partnering with a security expert or consulting. They can provide expert advice, conduct security assessments and penetration testing, and help you stay on top of the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

Security is an ongoing process, and it’s essential to regularly review and update your security measures to ensure that they are still effective.