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Defending Against Maritime Cyber Security Threats

By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, In Homeland Security

The Maritime Cyber Security Seminar and Symposium at CCICADA wrapped up Tuesday with many takeaways provided by the various expert speakers and panelists. The symposium was co-sponsored by Rutgers University and American Military University (AMU).

A majority of America’s major ports are computerized, with GPS guiding incoming vessels and their cargo. Avoiding a catastrophic hacking or jamming of GPS was a hot topic at the symposium. If only one major U.S. port was compromised by cyber attackers, the economic losses are estimated at $1 billion per day. Each of the speakers at the symposium provided a wide range of tactics, strategies and countermeasures to avert such disastrous attacks.

One of the country’s leading authorities on maritime security, Vice Adm. Chuck Michel, USCG, was the keynote speaker Tuesday. However, Vice Adm. Michel almost didn’t make it to the symposium thanks to the impasse on Capitol Hill regarding DHS funding. A last-gasp, seven-day extension of funding was passed over the weekend, which allowed DHS personnel to attend the maritime cyber security symposium.

“The quickest way to shut down the federal government is not a cyber-attack, it’s not even a ‘Storm Thor,’ it’s a good immigration debate,” said a tongue-in-cheek Vice Adm. Michel to start his presentation before turning to more serious matters.

“It’s a very dynamic time for the Coast Guard,” stated Vice Adm. Michel. “And I have to say that cyber security, and the cyber realm, are really the single most dynamic areas that I have responsibility for … We have everything from ‘hacktivists’ to terrorists to cyber vandals to nation states attacking private companies,” Vice Adm. Michel said, referring to a recent alleged cyber-attack by Iran on Las Vegas Sands casino.

Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, Director, NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, addressed some of the concerns facing every U.S. port.

“New vulnerabilities in the cyber realm allow actors to commit a number of cyber crimes, including altering manifests and container I.D.s, disrupting terminal operations and stealing pricing documents,” said Rodriguez. “Given these threats, I—along with my state and federal partners—in both the public and private sectors, have taken proactive steps to build state-wide resilience in the cyber realm.”

maritime cyber security
Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, Director, NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness

The audience on each day of the symposium featured expert practitioners from various entities including the Department of Homeland Security, the Intelligence Community, various private security companies, the U.S. Coast Guard and other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Also in attendance were students from Rutgers University and AMU.

“There needs to be more discussion on cyber security, not just among the cyber community, but also the government entities involved to figure out how to be resilient and where the vulnerabilities are,” said AMU student Laura Sturdevant, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in intelligence studies at AMU. “The United States is one of the most inter-connected countries in the world. Cyber is involved in all of it, and if a hostile actor takes out our ability to communicate in that way, it brings a danger of returning us to a Third World capacity.”

The organizers hope that the maritime cyber security symposium will be the first of many future events highlighting the importance of maritime cyber security.

Check out the U.S. Coast Guard blog by clicking here.

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