Cyber attack

Maritime industry remains ‘easy target’ for cyber attacks as ransom payment demands skyrocket

The maritime industry remains an “easy target” for cybercriminals, and the cost of attacks and demand for ransom payments across the sector have skyrocketed over the past 12 months, according to the research findings from law firm HFW and maritime cyber security company CyberOwl.

The research reveals that the average cyberattack in the maritime industry now ends up costing the target organization $550,000 – up from $182,000 in 2022.

One of the findings also indicates that demands for ransom have increased by more than 350%, with the average ransom payment now $3.2m – up from $3.1m last year.

Another finding shows that 24% of the victims of cyberattacks were tricked into transferring funds to criminal organizations.

The report is based on a survey of more than 150 industry professionals – including C-suite leaders, cyber security experts, seafarers, shoreside managers, and suppliers – and reveals significant gaps in cyber risk management that exist across shipping organizations and the wider supply chain, despite progress made by IMO 2021.

The research was carried out by the maritime technology research agency Thetius.

Despite these eye-watering costs, most shipping organizations significantly under-invest in cyber security management:

  • a third spend less than $100,000 per year
  • 25% of survey respondents said their organization does not have insurance to cover cyber risk

Although overall levels of preparedness seem to be improving:

  • 80% of survey respondents understand what actions would be required of them in the event of a cyber security incident (up from 74% in 2022)
  • 64% said their organization has cyber risk management procedures for dealing with suppliers (up from 55% in 2022)

“Our findings show that while maritime cyber security has improved, the industry remains an easy target. Shipping organizations are being subject to more cyberattacks than ever before, and the cost of attacks and demand for ransom payments have skyrocketed,” Tom Walters, Partner, HFW, said.

The findings are of massive importance keeping in mind that the use of technology continues to increase across all aspects of shipping – from ship networks to offshore installations and shoreside control centres.

“Maritime operational technology and fleet operations management are now almost entirely digital, meaning that a cyberattack could compromise anything from vessel communication systems and navigation suites to the systems managing ballast water, cargo management, and engine monitoring and control,” Walters continued.

Failure of any of those systems could result in a vessel being stranded and potentially grounded, and we saw from the Ever Given the impact that can have on global supply chains. This is a critical issue for all parties involved in the shipping sector, and it’s clear that the industry has to do more to protect itself against cyberattacks.”

Daniel Ng, CEO, CyberOwl, believes that the good news is that the conversation on vessel cyber risk management has shifted away from the ‘why’ towards the ‘how’.

As explained, there is less skepticism about the need to manage the risk, and more thoughtfulness on how best to spend each dollar in shoring up defenses.

“The challenge for the change agents in shipping is that they are dealing with new risks in a new domain under sector-specific constraints. All of this in an environment where shipping companies are still too secretive to share benchmarks and best practice widely,” Ng said.

“The sector must make the most of the specialist expertise available. And those with specialist maritime cyber security knowledge must do more to share knowledge of risks and best practice.”

One of the conclusions was that what works in other sectors may not work in shipping, and applying a generic approach could lead to expensive wastage.

Nick Chubb, Managing Director, Thetius, said that the research shows that the industry has improved dramatically in a short space of time.

“But it also shows that cybercriminals are evolving faster. The costs of cyber-attacks are growing. The impact that can be created in the global supply chain by exploiting a single easy target means the entire maritime industry needs to raise the bar,” Chubb added.