Industry » Yacht Technology » Cyber Security - The Importance of a Future-proof Onboard Network

Cyber Security - The Importance of a Future-proof Onboard Network

Superyachts are packed with cutting-edge technology, from entertainment systems and smart automation to navigation tools and satellite internet. Increasingly, they also incorporate next-generation propulsion systems all integrated with advanced electronic control systems. 

But as magnificent as they are, superyachts, like any other digitally integrated system, are equally susceptible to cyber threats. Therefore, it's essential to prioritise cybersecurity while also ensuring a secure, future-proof network on board. 

We spoke to TSM Superyacht Technology owner Scott Galloway to find out why network security on yachts is so important and how owners can future-proof their onboard networks, ensuring that their yachts are as safe as possible. 

The Rising Tide of Cyber Threats 

As we all know, the digital age has witnessed a surge in cyber threats, with cybercriminals continuously evolving their methods to exploit vulnerabilities. One report estimates that cybercrime will cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. If that number were a country, it would be the world’s third largest economy, following the US and China. It’s an absolutely frightening thought. 

For superyachts though, the cyber threats they face are manifold. Imagine a scenario where a cyber attacker takes control of a yacht's navigation system, or where a yacht's entertainment system is hijacked or a crucial server or database is held for ransom. Such instances aren't just a dystopian nightmare: They’re already here. At the very least, they’re inconvenient, but worst, they pose severe security risks. This makes an emphasis on cybersecurity more crucial than ever. 

And with our increasingly connected world, the doorways available to potential attackers are growing by the minute. 

IMO Regulations 

Recognising this, in June 2017 the International Maritime Organisation adopted Resolution MSC.428(98) Maritime Cyber Risk Management in Safety Management Systems. This law requires that cyber risks be ‘appropriately addressed’ in existing safety management systems (as defined in the ISM code), no later than a yacht’s first annual Document of Compliance audit after 1 January 2021. 

In other words, identifying cyber threats and proactively defending your yacht against them, is no longer optional. It’s law. 

The Unique Vulnerability of Superyachts 

Superyachts are uniquely and particularly vulnerable to cyber threats, and there are various reasons for that. 

Multiple Access Points: Superyachts often boast numerous Internet of Things (IoT) devices for automating onboard processes and managing onboard operations more efficiently. These can range from climate control systems to entertainment systems, engine control systems, surveillance networks and advanced navigation tools. Each of these devices can act as a potential entry point for cybercriminals, and it’s easy to see why. According to Nordic Semiconductor, ‘while IT hardware and software security has dramatically improved, the IoT has lagged (behind)’.

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IoT devices represent a double threat to yacht cyber security. First, because they each create yet another potential access point for criminals and secondly, because the data that these devices often contain - such as surveillance footage or medical data from wearables, for example - can be extremely sensitive. 

High-Profile Guests: The elite nature of superyacht owners and guests can make these vessels prime targets for bad actors. The potential for accessing sensitive information or for high-profile ransom - and ransomware -scenarios represents a very real threat to a yacht’s network security. 

Dependence on Digital Systems: Modern yachts rely heavily on digital systems. Disruption to these systems could at best impair luxury amenities but at worst, handicap or even disable critical functionalities like navigation or propulsion. This vulnerability was already publicly demonstrated as far back as 2013, when a team of researchers at the University of Texas successfully hijacked the navigation equipment onboard an $80 million superyacht, using relatively simple equipment. Four years later in 2017, a cybercrime specialist working for BlackBerry demonstrated his ability to take full control of a nearby yacht, and then to conceal all of his tracks afterwards. 

The Role of Proactive Cybersecurity Measures 

Given these vulnerabilities, it's essential to adopt proactive cybersecurity measures onboard your yacht. Here’s how: 

Regular Security Audits: Engaging in periodic cyber security assessments can help identify potential vulnerabilities, ensuring all systems are up-to-date and adequately protected.

A security audit entails undertaking ‘a comprehensive review of an organisation’s IT infrastructure’ to ‘identify any vulnerabilities that could result in a data breach’. Best practice for security audits is for it to be undertaken by a third party such as TSM Superyacht Technology. In full collaboration with you/the owner/the management company, TSM will ensure that your network, devices and infrastructure onboard are properly categorised and protected. 

Crew Training: Crew members must be trained in cybersecurity best practices, enabling them to identify suspicious activities and understand the importance of safeguarding the yacht’s digital systems. This is especially important since crew will typically bring several internet-connected devices onboard with them in their personal belongings, representing even more potential doorways for cyber threats. 

Network Segmentation: By separating critical systems from non-essential ones, it becomes more challenging for cyber attackers to gain control over vital functionalities. 

Secure Communication Channels: Given the sensitive nature of communications on superyachts, secure communication channels with encrypted messaging and calls are paramount.

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The Need for a Future-Proof Network 

Beyond immediate cyber threats, superyachts need to consider the long-term sustainability and security of their networks. Future-proofing ensures that as technology evolves, the yacht's digital infrastructure can adapt without becoming obsolete or vulnerable. 

Future-proofing entails: 

Scalable Infrastructure: Adopting systems that can handle increased data loads and connect more devices as technology advancements occur. But scalability can also mean adopting a flexible security strategy that can cope with change. 

Continuous Software Updates: Keeping all software and firmware updated ensures that systems benefit from the latest security patches. TSM Superyacht Technology offers yacht owners various Service Level Agreement packages to help owners and crews ensure that all of the yacht’s systems are kept up to date. 

Integration of Advanced Security Protocols: As cybersecurity methods evolve, integrating these advancements into the yacht's network keeps it ahead of potential threats. Here, it is best to trust the experts at TSM Superyacht Technology with ensuring that your yacht’s network is kept abreast of the latest cyber security threats. 

Security, Confidence, and Peace of Mind 

Investing in cybersecurity and a future-proof network for superyachts offers multiple benefits. Owners and guests can enjoy their maritime adventures with confidence, knowing that their vessel is fortified against cyber threats. Additionally, a secure digital environment can enhance the yacht's market value and appeal to discerning clientele aware of cyber risks. 

Furthermore, beyond the tangible benefits, there's an invaluable sense of peace of mind. In a world where cyber threats not only loom large but are growing at a rapid pace, knowing that one's floating haven remains untouched and secure is priceless. 

To ensure that your yacht’s IT infrastructure is properly equipped, updated and serviced for maximum defence against modern cyber threats, consider chatting to the experts at TSM Superyacht Technology. Owner Scott Galloway and his team pride themselves on their personal, tailored service that they are able to deliver to your yacht anywhere in the world. Contact TSM today for a personalised consultation.

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