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Ports on alert as cyber attacks proliferate

The cyber security attack that hit the Port of San Diego on Tuesday included ransomware and demand for Bitcoin, port officials said in a statement Friday. The attack is the second at a major global port this month with experts warning ports are coming under ever-greater attack from hackers.

“The Port of San Diego continues to investigate a serious cybersecurity incident that has disrupted the agency’s information technology systems, and the Port’s investigation so far has determined that ransomware was involved in this attack,” read a Port of San Diego statement. “Port employees continue to have limited functionality which may have temporary impacts on service to the public, especially in the areas of park permits, public records requests, and business services.”

It has emerged that the port of Barcelona also suffered a cyber attack last week, and back in July Cosco’s massive cyber attack originated from its operations at the port of Long Beach.

Dr Giovanni Vigna, director of UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Cybersecurity, told Splash today that the huge volume of information that ports handle makes them especially ripe targets for hackers.

“Shipping ports handle sensitive information that can be leveraged for financial fraud and spear phishing attacks. It is therefore not surprising that sophisticated malicious actors are targeting these enterprises, Vigna said, adding: “This industry should increase their awareness and level of protection in order to counteract these attacks. Failing to do so might, in the long run, cause larger problems for the companies whose information has been compromised.”

Asaf Shefi, CTO at cyber security firm Naval Dome, told Splash his company is seeing an increase in the number of cyber criminals targeting the maritime industry in general.  

“We are seeing attacks happening more frequently across shoreside companies, ports and ships. The ship-to-shore interface does need to be protected as this could open the door to both the port and ship for hackers. Each system onboard a vessel needs to be protected to prevent the spread of an attack,” Shefi said.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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