Cybersecurity must haves for yacht owners and crew

Date 30/04/2020
4 minutes to read
Ian Petts

By Ian Petts, Client Services Director, Equiom Monaco

The Maritime Safety Committee of the United Nations IMO (International Maritime Organisation), recently adopted a resolution to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in maritime safety management systems. This resolution significantly impacts the world’s super yachts and penetrates down through the yachting support industry.

Deadline looming

For yachts, any risks must be addressed no later than the first annual verification of the owning company’s document of compliance after 1 January 2021, which leaves little time to undertake an assurance test and implement any recommendations. The guidance from the IMO is compulsory for commercially registered yachts over 500 tonnes and optional for others. Smaller yachts may, however, be required to implement and address the guidance by their insurance company.

What is a cyber security assurance test?

The IMO cyber security assurance testing will typically include a threat assessment, vulnerability scan and a penetration test both from within and externally to the yacht as well as an audit of systems, policies and procedures. A detailed customised remediation plan with a roadmap costings and timing plan will then be implemented prioritising the highest risk areas.

Complexity of yacht IT systems

Today’s yachts are equipped with myriad smart, technical, entertainment systems and networks. There are several entry points for hackers on a yacht, not to mention the indirect threat via the systems of yacht management firms, the family office and supplier networks. 

Indeed the often quoted Maersk cyber attack in the shipping industry which infected 49,000 PCs, laptops and printers, was caused from hackers entering through the accounting system; a successful hack which cost Maersk ten days of lost operation and caused losses of $250-300 million. 

On today’s yacht, security cameras, jacuzzi lights, navigation systems, stabilisation systems, engine management systems and anchor systems are all computer controlled and therefore at risk. It is even possible for GPS systems to be altered to cause collisions with other vessels.

Billionaires often run a family office from their yacht, with sensitive transactions, business decisions and portfolios managed on board. This is even more prevalent currently with the Covid-19 virus outbreak leading to wealthy individuals self-isolating on their yacht, perhaps without considering the cybersecurity implications.

Importance of culture and training towards threats

It is not only the hardware and software which are important, it is building awareness and understanding of the possibility of a cyber attack among crew, yacht suppliers, the management company, the family office and anyone else involved with the yacht. 

Yacht crew are very familiar with fire drills, but how many yacht and management companies have prepared for cyber attacks and regularly practice drills? 

Personnel need to be trained on how to spot common cyber threats and prevent accidentally introducing a cyber risk. Anticipation is key, as well as understanding that an attack impacting the yacht is more a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’. 

Aside from a yacht’s technology, personal devices and peripherals such as tablets, laptops and smart phones, memory storage devices and USB keys owned by crew guests, suppliers and visitors are all common malware infection points and are not always addressed in implemented policies and procedures. In addition to this, external service providers could introduce a risk via their systems and processes - yet rarely is cybersecurity considered key criteria when engaging suppliers.

Plan ahead and plan now

A cybersecurity audit is recommended, not only to meet the IMO deadline, but also to give owners, managers, captains, the family offices and charter yacht guests confidence against attacks from hostile media, opportunist hackers and organised crime. 

In addition to this, a cybersecurity plan should be drawn up to deal with any problems should they occur. A typical plan will identify who is responsible for coordinating recovery, who will notify key stakeholders and alert the wider industry, what backup systems are available to continue running and navigating the ship and what messaging to communicate to the media.

This article has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The article cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact Equiom to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstance. Equiom Group, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information in this article or for any decision based on it.
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