You are a bridge officer on a 12,000 TEU container vessel in the Kill Van Kull Channel, heading west towards the Bayonne Bridge with a pilot on board. It’s a cloudless sunny day. As you pass Constable Hook Reach, you feel the ship veer hard to port and your speed appears to increase. Although the bridge instruments show your expected speed, location, and rudder position, the rudder is, in fact, hard over to port and your speed has increased to 12 knots. The pilot’s PPU shows the vessel horribly deviating from the assigned course and speed, adding to the confusion. The ship does not respond to helm and engine orders. Within a few minutes, your bow has run aground on the south shore of the channel, while the stern continues to swing around towards the north shore. Within six minutes, your ship is sideways in the channel and traffic in both directions has come to a halt.

So, what happened here? System malfunction? Crew failure? Cyberattack? How would you know and how would you tell the difference?

This scenario—inspired by our colleagues at the Cyber-SHIP Lab at the University of Plymouth, UK—is, actually, a potential cyberattack. It is not one of the doomsday attacks you see in the action movies, where an international criminal mastermind somehow takes remote control of your ship in an attempt to ransom the owners. It’s actually much worse because it’s more plausible.

Malware on a shipboard system could actualize the very events described here . . . not only at the Ports of New York and New Jersey, but at any soft maritime target that a malign actor chooses. There are many ways that such malware can infect ships, ranging from spearphishing emails with bogus chart updates to device firmware patches from compromised vendors. And, like the Solar Winds attack demonstrated two years ago, multiple ships can be targeted at the same time with malware that lies dormant for weeks or months.

When trying to manage cyber threats and understand cyber attack capabilities, maritime executives will benefit by measuring their respective risks and opportunities in temporal terms. In the commercial sectors with the greatest degree of cybersecurity maturity, corporate information security executives typically reach for their stopwatches to measure how robust their cybersecurity posture is. It is past time that maritime executives start doing the same. Here are seven cyber metrics that maritime owners and operators should understand and start to measure.

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