The Suez Canal’s status as a major crossing point in shipping makes it a prime target for hackers intent on causing chaos similar to that of Ever Given’s grounding in the waterway in March 2021.
The Great Disconnect, a report produced by maritime research firm Thetius, maritime cyber risk management specialist CyberOwl and law firm Holman Fenwick Willan, said that it is possible for hackers to penetrate a ship’s navigation system and create havoc as the vessel passes major chokepoints, such as the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca.
The report stated, “Whether through spoofing GPS, or hijacking a ship’s control system, the ability of a nation state to manipulate the movement of maritime vessels can cause billions of dollars of disruption, shock the global supply chain, increase the cost of goods, and even instigate international conflict.”
The grounding of the 20,124 TEU Ever Given in the Suez Canal was not caused by a cyber attack but it stands as an example of the fallout of such an event. For six days, the ship remained wedged into the sides of the Suez Canal. It is estimated to have cost the global economy between US$6 billion and US$10 billion per day in lost trade.
The report’s authors pointed to the detention of the UK-flagged products tanker Stena Impero as the result of a suspected case of hacking.
On 19 July 2019, Stena Impero transited the Straits of Hormuz to pick up cargo in the Persian Gulf. The ship’s regular course keeps it well within the Oman waters, away from the border with Iran. But on this occasion, the ship’s crew experienced unusual deviations from their voyage plan and had to continuously adjust the vessel’s course to stay on their intended path.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard boarded Stena Impero, accusing it of colliding with a fishing boat and failing to respond to calls. Although Stena Impero’s Swedish owner Stena Bulk said there was no evidence of the accusation, the tanker was detained for two months as part of a diplomatic crisis between Iran and western governments. The detention of the Stena Impero was widely seen as Tehran’s retaliation for the UK detaining an Iranian tanker, Adrian Darya-1, two weeks before the Stena Impero was seized.
The authors of The Great Disconnect said, “Whether through spoofing GPS, or hijacking a ship’s control system, the ability of a nation state to manipulate the movement of maritime vessels can cause billions of dollars of disruption, shock the global supply chain, increase the cost of goods, and even instigate international conflict. Fortunately, direct attacks by nation-states are rare; the industry is far more likely to suffer an attack from an unintentional insider.”