Yacht Makers Are Adrift About Hacking

Even at prices in the eight figures, superyachts do not come with the luxury of strong cyber-security, leaving electronic equipment aboard vulnerable to attacks and posing a serious risk to passengers at sea. A researcher demonstrated how an attacker could access private information or even influence the course of the vessel without raising any alarm.

At the SuperYacht Investor conference in London last week, Blackberry technical director Campbell Murray explained the risks that come with low cyber security and the impact on customers. He also presented an experiment he had carried out with a colleague, which targeted a superyacht in his proximity. The test took a few hours and, at the end, the two had control over the vessel’s critical systems, such as satellite communication, telephone, wireless network and navigation, according to a report from The Guardian.

The newspaper says Murray and his partner needed half an hour to breach the WiFi on the boat and could intercept and modify emails. Access to wireless networks, residential ones included, comes with privileges like managing the CCTV system, access to private photos and documents. Yachts have strong WiFi signals so owners can run their business from aboard. This also means that it can reach the shore and other vessels. “If you moor up in Monaco, who are you moored up next to?” says Murray, referring to the dangers of an insecure network.

Previous research on hijacking yachts has shown that a vessel can be taken off course by feeding its GPS receivers a false signal. The team increased the intensity of the signal gradually, until it grew strong enough for the ship to ignore the legitimate one; through subtle maneuvers, the researchers set the ship on a different trajectory, without triggering any alert from the navigation system.

In a more recent experiment by ECDIS Ltd, the researchers infected with ransomware an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), used for nautical navigation, to see the effects on the system. Once the malware was out, it closed all software on the affected computer, demanded ransom by paying for a fake copy of Microsoft Antivirus, and spread to other computer systems.

Getting malware aboard a ship is no different than infecting regular users; seafarers are just as susceptible to well-crafted emails with malicious attachments and social-engineering. Computer equipment on ships can also be detected and compromised by scanning the web if they are connected and have a common vulnerability, as happens so often with routers and IoT devices. On the upside, some guidelines on cyber security on ships have been released and should, in theory, help prevent at least some attempts.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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