Maritime Cybersecurity: Protecting ships and crews from digital threats

'Where information technology and people meet, there is room for digital vulnerability.'
Can Emir
A cargo ship cruising
A cargo ship cruising


You’re on the bridge, with the ship’s course on the digital display. But why is the ship continuing to turn west?

Everything appears normal on the computer screens in the dim wheelhouse, but the land is perilously close outside. What is happening?

Down in the engine room, personnel reports through the radio that everything is okay, but they wonder why the bridge has altered direction. The engines are revving, and the ship is gaining speed. This hasn't been done by the engine room. What now?

Both in academia and the maritime industry as a whole, cybersecurity is a hot concern. Recently, a collaborative team taught a brand-new cyber security course at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Lesund. A new course titled "Maritime digital security" has just been added to NTNU in Lesund's maritime industry program.

Participants in the workshop have studied digital risks for the past two months. They have conducted a realistic practice run of a cyber attack on a ship in motion and evaluated the risk of current digital threats. The main emphasis is on resilience development and risk management of cyberattacks.

“Where information technology and people meet, there is room for digital vulnerability. Security breaches can come in through the ship’s systems and through the port system and through the people who operate or supervise them,” Marie Haugli-Sandvik and Erlend Erstad said.

Both are Ph.D. candidates at NTNU's Department of Ocean Operations and Civil Engineering. They are looking into how to make the maritime sector more resilient to cyberattacks.

The maritime digital security course, which looks to be the first in Norway, was created and is currently taught by the two Ph.D. candidates.

The course has been included as part of the doctoral theses they are about to complete.

“We developed this course in close collaboration with the industry,” Erstad said. “We have listened to what they want, looked objectively at their needs, and then tested the best solution we can come up with.”

“It’s always better to have a broad perspective and different approaches with new projects and methods. Established businesses can also benefit from a fresh look. NTNU is a good place to try out new ideas. As researchers, we can help meet the industry’s urgent needs while at the same time discussing solutions with them for the future,” Haugli-Sandvik said.

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