Three Ways to Protect Your Supply Chain From Cyber-Attack

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Published Aug 29, 2017 9:19 PM by Rick Willbanks

Threats on cyber security serve as wake-up calls to businesses across industries. When threats or attacks hit close to home,  like the recent cyber-attack on Maersk Line, you might feel a heightened sense of urgency to review your own contingency plan. While any supply chain has the potential to become a target, there are steps you can take to protect your maritime supply chain. By analyzing cyber risks in advance, you can prepare to defend against them instead of waiting until after you’ve been attacked.
Ocean supply chains are subject to both regular market disruptors and potential future disruptors, and both can impact your supply chain. Regular events, like traditional peak season in North America from August to October, make it more challenging to obtain space on ocean vessels. But because these events occur like clockwork, you can take proactive steps to lessen their impact on your supply chain. For example, you can look ahead at your three-month forecasts and book the space you will need at least 2 to 3 weeks before you need it.

Cyber-attacks fall into the category of potential future disruptors. Like the regular disruptors, they can force you to use expedited shipping methods to meet delivery times. And because you may not know how long the disruption will last, the impact on your budget can be significant.

Ocean supply chains are particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, because your company is connected with parties in other countries with varying degrees of security measures. You will need to identify where your supply chain may be vulnerable. Then, work with your suppliers and ocean freight providers to develop scenarios for how you can recover from a variety of threats. 

The first step in this process is to think wider and deeper to understand your true risk exposure. Here are a few ways you can do that.

1. Take a closer look at your electronic relationships.

We live in an interconnected world. Your business is not only connected with first tier suppliers and ocean providers, but with all of their electronic business partners. So, examine the electronic relationships you have with your ocean providers and suppliers. But don’t stop there; examine the relationships beyond your immediate partners. 

For example, maybe you’re confident that your data is safe and sound with your first-tier connections. However, their electronic connections to other suppliers may not be as secure, and these second-tier suppliers can impact your cyber security. 

Start developing a complete supply chain network connection map that extends at least one tier beyond your direct customer/supplier relationships. Such a map can reveal unexpected dependencies and vulnerabilities and enable you to plan with your business partners to mitigate potential risks.

2. Prioritize the threats you deem most viable.

Take the obvious steps that are recognized as effective deterrents, like making sure you apply regular software updates and patches and offering basic security education to all employees. Then, go one step further.

Rank the threats to the technology and data assets in your maritime supply chain—computer equipment, mobile phones and tablets, and employee, customer, and financial data. Address the highest-risk areas first with the greatest scrutiny and urgency.

3. Host a cross-functional discussion within your organization to debate and implement recovery methods.

It’s important to understand how your organization identifies and mitigates other risks in the business. Then, align your ocean planning against cyber-attacks with the organization’s overall attitude toward risk and its expected time to recover. 
Your ocean cyber-attack planning will not be one-and-done. 

You will need to revisit and update the strategy continually, and test recovery methods regularly to ensure they remain relevant and can achieve your expected time to recover. Often, the organizational discussion that ensues among your leadership team and the extended discussion that occurs with your business partners can result in even more best-practice sharing.

Final thoughts

What all this teaches us is that disruptions from cyber-attacks can happen to any of us and for the ocean providers and suppliers we work with. It’s critical we all work together to prepare our supply chains if we want to prevent disruption for customers.

Maritime supply chain disruptions can be unavoidable, but there are ways to prepare for events that may hold up shipping processes. Make sure your ocean shipping strategies are optimal.    

Rick Willbanks is General Manager, Global Forwarding Application Development at C.H. Robinson.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.