Yet another report has signaled the vulnerabilities of the shipping industry to cyberattacks.
Released Feb. 19, this new threat analysis comes from Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit, which tracks so-called banking botnets — the huge networks of infected computers that steal bank logins and empty the checking accounts of unsuspecting victims.
In 2015, the report says, the most harmful viruses expanded from their traditional banking targets to hit warehouses and international shipping companies located in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
"When banks improve their security measures, cybercriminals move elsewhere," the report reads, referring to sustained efforts in Europe and the U.S. to halt cyberbreaches in the financial sectors. "Threats are becoming more sophisticated, incorporating emerging technologies, advanced cryptography and resilient infrastructure to resist surveillance and disruption."
Hackers and criminals have moved on to new targets, such as "icloud service providers, app stores, online tech stores and organizations in the shipping, warehousing, e-commerce and marketing industries." They are even going after dating apps to get information on people.
Pallav Khandhar, a senior threat researcher at SecureWorks, told CNN last week that the criminals are diversifying their targets in an unending quest to enrich themselves. The normal operation is to wire funds out of online baking accounts, and then with the stolen cash, buy online electronics and luxury goods, which they later resell for cash. This is estimated to be a $1.8 billion a year business.
Most of the activity originates in Eastern Europe and Russia.
"You can say they're turning into an international mafia," Khandhar said. "They're spreading their wings. They're not just going after banks or bank users. These guys are going after everyone now."
This report joins a growing chorus of other analyses that have set off warning alarms in the maritime community, which has until recently not been drawn into the cyberattack web.
Over the past year, studies by the insurance industry, security firms and maritime organizations have cited the increased vulnerabilities of shipping, as connectivity on vessels has become more sophisticated. Ships are adopting, for example, various e-navigation and integrated automatic identification systems (AIS) to supplement marine radar that is used for vessel detection, positioning and collision avoidance.
Most of these studies discuss the risks to national economies and individual shipping and port operations should hackers infiltrate digital operating systems. Now it seems that shipping is also seen as an easy target for international money laundering schemes.