Transas Calls for Satcom Cybersecurity Regulation


By The Maritime Executive 2016-10-20 22:00:37

Frank Coles, CEO of bridge electronics and training firm Transas, issued a call this week for new security standards for digital ship-to-shore communications.

In a keynote address at this week's Shipping Insight conference in Stamford, Coles observed that a ship's data connection to shore is much less regulated than the ship's equipment – and that the satellite connection is an essential link which should be subject to the same degree of scrutiny as everything else. 

"The connected ship is like a long chain, with each piece linking to the next and at every point there is the opportunity for a failure. It can be hardware or software or both and it can be a cyber virus penetration or simply a denial of service, either of which can cause damage," he said. "There are international maritime standards for GMDSS or AIS, but for the big data nothing exists. This means the cyber security risk is left to each satellite operator, each service provider and each hardware manufacturer."

As in previous comments, Coles used his speech to highlighted the need for continued human involvement in an age of increasing sophistication. Rather than relying on automation, Coles thinks that cybersecurity will be best served by having human observers monitoring network activity – both as a method of detection, but also as a backup.

In the past, he has argued forcefully in favor of retaining seafarers on board ships, using increasing shipboard automation to make their tasks easier and safer rather than eliminating their presence.

"It is time for the IMO to apply the same standards of compliance used for GMDSS, ECDIS and other bridge equipment to . . . communication networks and equipment," he said. "If these networks and the associated equipment are going to be used for operational, remote management and technical decision, it must be cyber secure and compliant with a global set of international maritime standards.”

Coles' comments come at a time of change for the satcom market, with new operators and new constellations offering higher speeds at sea – especially for cruise ships, which have a high demand for data, but increasingly for merchant vessels as well. In addition to connectivity for crew welfare, many ship operators are looking at a faster connection in order to access shipboard sensor data on each vessel’s propulsion plant, speed, vibration, heading, trim and myriad other factors – information which they can use to improve the bottom line.