Cyber-Attack Impairs Global Shipping Industry

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This past Tuesday, June 27th, a global cyber-attack affected organizations around the world, including those within the maritime container shipping industry. The Petya Ransomware attack, which targeted out-of-date Windows devices, crippled A.P. Moller-Maersk’s main business units bringing the operations of the shipping titan, which handles one out of seven globally-shipped containers, to a grinding halt. While other cyber-attacks against the global shipping industry have recently occurred, only the Petya attack has negatively impacted U.S. trade flows to this extent.

As more cyber-attacks hit this industry, the issue of cyber security will rise to the forefront. Mark Szakonyi of the Journal of Commerce comments that the unpredictable nature of a cyber-attack places it, “on a list that includes severe weather, piracy, and labor action.” However, the main challenge of cyber security the shipping industry will have to overcome is a common one: who bears the onus of establishing and implementing an effective cyber defense?

By design, global commerce is a complex web of interactions between governments and private entities. As such, there exists no authoritative centralized institution that could neither require nor establish a global cyber defense strategy. Instead, individual governments and corporations will have to create their own initiatives to counter cyber threats. As the U.S. Coast Guard already functions as a police force against physical maritime threats, the armed services branch intends to begin assessing and preventing cyber threats that target U.S. merchants.

As Maersk and other shipping companies digitalize further, they will have to develop their own cyber defenses to protect against attacks similar to Petya. With the absence of an international institution establishing top-down cyber security measures for any industry, these companies will face huge financial burdens from post-attack damage control and lost business until an effective cyber-defense strategy is achieved.

Ryan DelGaudio for the South Florida District Export Council