Pirates can now brutally stop freighters and planes

Container ships sit off the Long Beach/Los Angeles port complex in Long Beach, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Jeff Grischen | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Armed with little more than a computer, hackers are increasingly turning their attention to some of the greatest things humans can build.

Vast container ships and large cargo planes – essential in today’s global economy – can now be stopped by a new generation of code warriors.

“The reality is that a plane or a ship, like any digital system, can be hacked,” David Emm, senior security researcher at cyber firm Kaspersky, told CNBC.

Indeed, this was proven by the US government during a “pen-test” exercise on a Boeing aircraft in 2019.

Hacking Logistics

However, it is often easier to hack into companies that operate in ports and airports than to gain access to an actual aircraft or ship.

In December, German company Hellmann Worldwide Logistics said its operations had been affected by a phishing attack. Phishing attacks involve sending fake messages designed to trick people into transmitting sensitive information or downloading harmful software.

The company, which offers air, sea, road and rail freight services, and contract logistics, was forced to stop taking new bookings for several days. It’s unclear exactly how much income he lost as a result.

Hellmann’s chief information officer, Sami Awad-Hartmann, told CNBC the company immediately tried to ‘stop the spread’ when it realized it had been the victim of a cyberattack. .

“You have to stop him to make sure he doesn’t go further into your [computing] infrastructure,” he said.

Hellmann, a global company, took its data centers around the world offline and shut down some of its systems to limit the spread.

“One of the drastic decisions we then made when we found that some systems were infected was to disconnect from the internet,” Awad-Hartmann said. “As soon as you take that step, you stop. You don’t work anymore.”

Everything had to be done manually and business continuity plans were kicked off, Awad-Hartmann said, adding that some parts of the business were able to handle this better than others.

Awad-Hartmann said the hackers had two main goals. The first being to encrypt Hellmann and the second to exfiltrate data.

“So they blackmail you,” he said. “Then the ransom begins.”

Hellmann was not encrypted as it moved quickly and shut itself off from the internet, Awad-Hartmann said.

“As soon as you are encrypted, of course, your reboot procedure takes longer because you may need to decrypt,” he explained. “You may have to pay the ransom to get the master keys and things like that.”

Hellmann is working with law enforcement to try to determine who is behind the cyberattack. There is speculation but no definitive answers, Awad-Hartmann said.

Attack of NotPetya

The notorious NotPetya attack in June 2017, which affected several companies, including Danish container shipping company Maersk, also highlighted the vulnerability of global supply chains.

Maersk first announced that it had been hit by NotPetya – a ransomware attack that blocked people from accessing their data unless they paid $300 in bitcoins – at the end of June this year.

“During the last week of [second] quarter, we were affected by a cyberattack, which mainly affected Maersk Line, APM Terminals and Damco,” Maersk CEO Soren Skou said in a statement in August 2020.

“Business volumes were negatively impacted for a few weeks in July and as a result our third quarter results will be impacted,” he added. “We expect the cyberattack to negatively impact earnings by $200 million to $300 million.”

The ransomware attack took advantage of some Windows software platform security vulnerabilities that Microsoft had uncovered after they were leaked.

“This cyber attack was a type of malware never seen before, and updates and patches applied to both Windows systems and antivirus were not effective protection in this case,” Maersk said.

“In response to this new type of malware, AP Moller Maersk has implemented different and additional protective measures and continues to review its systems to defend against attacks.”

In a follow-up post, Gavin Ashton, an IT security expert at Maersk at the time, wrote that it is “inevitable” that you will be attacked.

“It is inevitable that one day we will pass,” continued Ashton. “And obviously you should have a solid contingency plan in place in case the worst happens. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try to fight to stop those attacks in the first instance. Just because you know the bad actors are coming, it doesn’t mean you leave your front door open and make them a cup of tea when they come in. You can just lock the door.

Meanwhile, in February 2020, Japan Post-owned freight forwarder Toll Group was forced to shut down some IT systems after suffering a cyberattack. Toll Group did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Disguise drug shipments

Sometimes hackers are not necessarily looking for a ransom.

In 2013, criminals hacked the systems of the port of Antwerp in order to manipulate the movement of containers so that they could hide and move their drug shipments.

Once the hackers got into the right systems, they changed the location and delivery times of the containers with the drugs.

The smugglers then sent their own drivers to collect the drug-laden shipping containers before the legitimate carrier could retrieve them.

Hackers have used spear phishing and malware attacks – directed at port authority employees and shipping companies – to gain access to systems.

The whole scheme was uncovered by the police after the shipping companies detected something was wrong.

Awad-Hartmann said hackers have realized how important global supply chains are and now know what happens when they are disrupted.

“It has an impact on the whole global economy,” he said. “You see the goods not flowing. You have gaps in the supermarkets. Of course I think the hackers see the reliance on that supply chain. And then, of course, a logistics is a target for them.”

He added that logistics is in the spotlight right now because global supply chains are in the news.

“But I think it’s a general threat,” he said.

“And it’s not going to go away. It’s going to increase. You have to constantly check. Are you still ready? This is something that keeps us busy and costs us a lot of money.”

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