Cyber security for ships depends on new supply chain, says LR

LR's Luis Benito. Credit: LR
LR's Luis Benito. Credit: LR

Risks from ships’ rising digitalisation could be lessened by decreasing their connection with the shore, opening up a new model for ship operations, according to Lloyd’s Register (LR). As ships approach “peak technology”, in which innovation in physical technology reaches its limits, the shipping business will increasingly have to turn to cyber technologies to deliver further operational efficiencies and cost savings, according to the latest edition of LR’s Horizons magazine. But along with opportunities these cyber technologies bring new risks and challenges. Speaking at a press meeting in London today, Luis Benito, a naval architect and LR’s marine marketing director, said the risk with cyber technology was typically understood as the security risk: when a ship’s systems become vulnerable to attacks through either accepting or transmitting signals. The spectrum of current solutions includes defences to block attacks from outside and ones to stop viruses from transmitting data out from ships whose systems have been breached. But in Benito’s view, “If the ship is not connected to the outside, cyber security risks will be much minimised”. He clarified that a ship would always be capable of connecting with the shore, but ship operators will increasingly be making choices on how much this connection needs to happen and for what purposes. Highly cyber-enabled ships wishing to implement this risk-avoidance strategy are likely to want to employ, on board, a specialist in data analytics, said Benito. Such experts will be needed to handle the software that “rules” the ship’s systems, provide “data assurance” by checking “you are working with raw data and not data that has been altered”, and ensure cyber security: the competency to deal with cyber emergencies.

Cyber-enabled ships create two new business areas, said Benito: designing cyber-enabled ships and providing operation and maintenance services.

Providing these services will bring about a “whole new supply chain” and a new operating scenario in shipping, which will also be essential for cyber-enabled ship to be commercially viable, according to Benito.

“If you think about the main traditional members of the supply chain, you think about equipment makers, designers, builders, shipowners and operators, flag states, classification societies. But now, to make a cyber ship commercially viable, you will have to count on software engineering, software integrators, platform providers, cyber security providers. We may even go into subcontracted maintenance companies,” he said.

This new supply chain is also expected to include the team that leads the switch from time- to performance-based care and maintenance of ships, based, again, on the analysis of data generated on the ship, said Benito.

“This is the beginning of a very different world,” he said.

Both LR and DNV GL have confirmed that they are thirsty for personnel with data analysis skills.

Speaking at a press meeting this month, DNV GL’s Pierre Sames, director of maritime technology R&D, said that while the society’s means of collecting data were multiplying impressively, it was not yet attracting enough experts with the skills to analyse and maximise the use of the data being collected.

Speaking to IHS IHS Markit today, Benito said the opportunities for this skillset were vast and growing across all industries, including maritime.

He said he had started informal talks with maritime education providers about the issue. In his view, he added, the training involved would consist of “much more than a module” on an engineering course.