Cruise ships are at risk of being sunk by cyber terrorists, according to new Government guidance issued in a bid to boost protection against online attacks.
The Transport Department has delivered a new warning which says vessels could be vulnerable to “kidnap, piracy, fraud [and] theft of cargo” if their computer systems are hacked.
The warning also claims that at worse a cyber-hack could result in “risk to life and/or the loss of the ship”.
There are fears that hackers could mess with mapping equipment and force a ship to head off course, which could cause it to hit another vessel or run aground.
The dire warnings were made in a “Cyber Security for Ships” code of practice which was written by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Fears that a commercial vessel could be sunk, causing untold loss of life, reveal just how exposed the transport sector is to the dangers of cyber-crime.
The document reads: “The maritime sector is a vital part of the global economy, whether it is carrying cargo, passengers or vehicles.
“Ships are becoming increasingly complex and dependent on the extensive use of digital and communications technologies throughout their operational life.
“Poor security could lead to significant loss of customer and/or industry confidence, reputational damage, potentially severe financial losses or penalties, and litigation affecting the companies involved.”
An attack could lead to “physical harm to the system or the shipboard personnel or cargo – in the worst case scenario this could lead to a risk to life and/or the loss of the ship”.
It could also impact “the health and safety of staff and other people impacted upon by the work activities being undertaken and to whom a duty of care is owed”.
Prof Alan Woodward, who works at the Surrey Centre for Cyber Security, told The Sunday Telegraph that tests have shown even super yachts could be hacked.
He said: “In the last 18 months people have suddenly realised the vulnerability of shipping. It is one of those things that people tend to not think about.
“Shipping is just as dependent as any other modern form of transportation on electronic devices. We have to be aware that signals can be spoofed.
“We’re not just talking about super tankers and big cruise ships. Basically anything that has any form of automation on it including yachts could be vulnerable.”