Quit the false fear mongering

Following on from Rod Johnson’s article on Wednesday, where he outlined how processes in place at sea are reasonably well adept to deal with any attempted sabotage efforts through hacking, Andy Lane joins the growing chorus concerned about fake tech news hitting shipping.

Like Rod Johnson, I too have seen a recent spate of fake news blogs, seemingly emanating 80 km northwest of London, and making spurious claims (and even providing ‘instructions’ to wannabe criminals) as to how one from their study can maliciously cause harm to container vessels, and their crew, through corrupting stowage plans. I will not afford the instigators of these overly-dramatised claims an easy link to their flawed and irresponsible blog, and I am also not going to claim that the IT architecture in the maritime industry is flawless – my blue friends can testify to that. The thing is however, buying a cheap app from down the market is neither the root cause, just as it is not the solution.

The blog was poorly structured, like a Tarantino movie, but ultimately claimed that if you corrupt a BAPLIE message, you can create poor stability and consequently “sink a ship”! That is the worse fake news since Boris and Nigel were running a campaign of falsities and deliberate lies in 2016 to create a true tragedy, Brexit! What the blogger fails to know and understand is that a BAPLIE is not the message file which controls whereabouts onboard specific containers are stowed. The stowage planning process involves multiple parties, in different offices, on different servers and often across national boundaries but requires two or more totally independent data sets to match 99.5% before any loading will ever take place. This is a very similar concept to the ‘unhackable’ Blockchain (shared ledger), and whereas not necessarily intended to serve as, but is more than sufficient to ensure that a complete chancer or terrorist will not ever be able to wreak the carnage alluded to. In addition, we have the whole VGM process in place now, and whereas it might not be adhered to 100%, it however yields another level of protection.

Not content with the instruction manual as to how to cause risks at sea, this same blogger then wrote about cargo re-routing and subsequent theft. There was pasted a ‘copy’ of a BAPLIE message, in which were segments for items such as intricate commodity details, prices, etc – a lot of commercial information which is simply not present in a BAPLIE. The sample BAPLIE however did not include the segment within which the container number is communicated. In order to pilfer an entire container, there are multiple other processes again involving multiple different parties (some of which are government linked), which need to be hacked (or bribed). Cargo theft does happen, even in motion at 80 kmh, but not as a direct result of changing the destination of a container.

It is fine to market services and products via blogs, responsible freedom of speech is also widely accepted. But you cross the line of professional and personal integrity when you publish false claims and fake news, and therefore surely (and hopefully) fall at the first hurdle of business development.


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