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Cybersecurity Challenges in Supply Chain Logistics

Over the past two years, as the pandemic’s effects on health, travel and the economy expanded, supply chain issues have established themselves regularly in the headlines. 

Practically every industry has been impacted, from a lack of used car parts to labor shortages. In an attempt to streamline systems, and connect globally, a massive push to digitize is underway: but, as Mike Wilson identifies for Forbes, this prompts a variety of new security issues.  

The Dangers Are Real 

Supply chain logistics extend beyond the worries that Christmas presents might be late, or unavailable, or that a company might suffer customer complaints. When it comes to the supply chain, the reality is physical: items of all kinds are being moved around the world, and many have specific vulnerabilities. 

From time and temperature-sensitive items all the way to the logistics of port deliveries, danger abounds and extends far beyond financial damage. For example, consider a scenario where a cybercriminal gains control of an oil supertanker by accessing the autopilot steering systems. The possibilities in such a situation, from running it into another vessel, redirecting it, or simply trying to destroy it by running it aground, could mean a huge environmental disaster

More Digital Systems Mean More Digital Vulnerabilities

Ocean freight shipping is indeed one realm that has fallen victim to several large-scale attacks in the last years: think of the Maersk ransomware attack as well as the Mediterranean Shipping Company suffering a malware-based breach in 2020. Both of these attacks were software-based, and caused a string of negative repercussions from downed systems to reputational damage, highlighting the importance of increased digital security. 

While our reliance on technological systems to manage all aspects of the supply chain grows, so do the pain points and vulnerabilities. Digital diagnostics and repairs have made systems more efficient and less labor-intensive, but also widened the potential for attacks. 

Time to Batten Down Cyber Hatches 

Those working in logistics, but also in upper management and IT services, have likely already realized the need for increased security along with all parts of the supply chains in which they are involved. Here are four actionable steps that could be widely adopted in the industry: 

1. Don’t Forget the Basics 

Security fundamentals mustn’t be forgotten. Digital hygiene basics like firewalls, endpoint detection, and password screening are steps that every business should be taking, especially in light of their widespread availability and cost-effectiveness. Compromised credentials have been shown to be responsible for many successful cyberattacks–and many of those were avoidable if businesses had incorporated stronger password policies and authentication methods in time.

2. Ensure Employees Have Training 

Many attacks also are successful due to human error. To stay ahead of as many angles as possible, businesses should provide ongoing training to as many employees as possible. The threat landscape changes fast, and often, so employee training should too. 

3. Adopt a Zero Trust Policy 

In an ideal world, we would have well-defined security boundaries within companies and between countries, but that reality is a long way off. Industries and their connecting supply chains have become more digitally based, more connected, and more complex. Adopting a zero-trust mindset and making authentication mandatory every step of the way isn’t a bad thing: it’s protection for everyone. 

4. Do Your Research

When adapting to new security demands, companies need to vet their software supply chain with as much care as they would any other product. Taking time to find reliable software companies that are a good fit is a crucial step. An approach like the NIST’s Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) framework can be useful.

5. Have a Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan 

While many security solutions are preventative, backing up your data and systems, and planning for a disaster (of any kind) is a smart move. If the worst does occur and your systems are under attack, you need to know that you can recover quickly and return to operations as soon as possible.

The shipping industry has affected all of us in the past years. Knowing when and where goods are going to arrive has had trickle-down effects on online ordering and customer satisfaction, but the larger problems are happening at the operational level. 

To put it bluntly, the logistics of maritime and freight operations are critical to the stability of the global supply chain. The industry as a whole simply can’t afford to forget about cybersecurity.