Maritime Cyber Security – Five key cyber questions and challenges facing the maritime industry


Maritime Cyber Security – Five key cyber questions and challenges facing the maritime industry!

To wrap up this year’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month series, Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Link with the Office of Port & Facility Compliance poses five key questions maritime professionals can consider when deciding how to manage risks to cyber systems.


Cyber systems are prevalent in our daily lives. We face an ever-increasing amount of cyber influence in how we live, work, and operate. The Marine Transportation System (MTS) uses cyber systems in all aspects of operations. With the convenience and improved performance offered by technology come continually-evolving questions and challenges. Cyber threats are real and pose considerable risks requiring attention and action at all organizational levels.

Below are five key cyber questions and challenges facing the maritime industry and how you can begin assessing and reducing risk:

1. How much should I invest in cybersecurity and cyber risk management? The answer varies from organization to organization. Cybersecurity should be viewed as an investment, not a cost. You are in the best position to evaluate your company’s cyber footprint to determine where risks are highest. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework and Coast Guard/NIST Cybersecurity Profiles are a few resources available. The Coast Guard continues to work on further guidance to assist in cyber risk management efforts, including the upcoming Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 05-17, Guidelines for Addressing Cyber Risks at Maritime Transportation Security Act Regulated Facilities.

2. We have a closed system with an air gap between our network and outside influences. Am I still at risk? Does the system have access control/authentication procedures to prohibit unknown or unauthorized access? Can an equipment vendor access that system remotely, even for seemingly harmless activities such as program updates? Can the system be accessed in person, connecting via laptop or other equipment, introducing an avenue for malicious access? To answer these questions, it is important to know and understand the landscape of, and access to your cyber systems.

3. What are the greatest threats to my cyber systems? A direct cyber attack can come from a malicious actor, either internal or external. Cyber threats can also arise from accidental corruption, like an employee unknowingly connecting a corrupted device (smart phone, “thumb” drive) to a USB port. Risks can increase due to improper system configurations or failure to stay current on software updates. Having policies in place to account for these issues, and ensuring employee awareness, can greatly reduce risks.

4. I think our organization is the victim of a cyber attack or incident. Who can I notify? The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) is a 24/7 cyber situational awareness, incident response, and management center serving as the national nexus of cyber and communications integration for the Federal Government, intelligence community, and law enforcement. A cyber incident that does not impact physical security or include a pollution event can be reported to the NCCIC at 1-888-282-0870, who will then forward the report to the National Response Center (NRC), meeting the reporting requirements in 33 CFR 101.305, if made aware that you are calling as a Coast Guard-regulated facility. Reports of suspicious activity or a breach of security, and incidents affecting physical security or including a pollution event should be reported to the NRC at 1-800-424-8802.

5. We need to address cyber risks in our organization, where do we begin? There is no single solution that will work the same for every company, but there are steps that will help get you on the path toward an improved cyber posture:

  • Increase cybersecurity training and awareness at all levels of your organization.
  • Understand and educate the workforce on the difference between Information Technology (IT), the storing, retrieving, transmitting, and manipulating of data, and Operational Technology (OT), the hardware and software that detects or causes changes in processes through monitoring or control of physical devices (the “Internet of Things”).
  • Establish positions, teams, or workgroups that are cyber threat-focused. Integrate your IT workforce’s corporate knowledge of systems with the OT workforce and others who possess expertise in your company’s operations.
  • Conduct an assessment to see where cyber threats exist, and identify ways to mitigate those risks. Incorporate cyber risk management into existing policies and procedures, including the Facility Security Plan. Conduct exercises that test your organization’s cyber threat resilience.
  • Identify your local Area Maritime Security Committee, particularly those with a dedicated cybersecurity subcommittee, or other opportunities that allows for the sharing of knowledge and experience. What affects your organization could affect others, so information sharing is crucial to combating threats.


Managing cyber risks will continue to be an ongoing effort requiring time and attention. The most significant threats and highest priorities may not remain the same from month-to-month or even week-to-week, so staying informed could mean the difference between a strong cyber posture or becoming victim to a cyber incident or breach.

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10/30/2017: Nat’l Cybersecurity Awareness Month – Five key cyber questions and challenges facing the maritime industry


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