Hackers can easily target container ships by hacking load plans due to its vulnerable messaging system

Pierluigi Paganini November 28, 2017

Ship loading and container load plans are vulnerable to hack because are created without using a secure messaging system.

Transportation is not immune from hacking attacks, aircraft and vessels can be compromised by cyber criminals and nations state actors exactly like any other system.

Today let’s speak about ship loading and container load plans that are vulnerable to hack because are created without using a secure messaging system.

Electronic messages that are exchanged between the entities responsible for these activities include a huge quantity of information that could be used by ill-intentioned to to target naval transportation entities, including shipping lines, terminals, and port authorities.

Large vessels rely a system called BAPLIE to displace thousands of containers, it is used to inform port authorities where to place every single container, and it is regularly updated by ship’s manufacturers.

Load plans

Researchers at the security firm Pen Test Partners who analyzed BAPLIE discovered that if customers do not use the latest version are open to cyber attacks that can allow crooks to send fake container’s data to the customs (obscure the real contents and weight of the load).

This information is used by port authorities and law enforcement to choose which containers have to be examined, altering data could allow criminal organizations to avoid controls.

The attackers could be interested in manipulating container weight and ship balance to make the ship more and more unstable as heavy goods are inadvertently loaded in the wrong position of the vessels.

“Criminals less interested in destabilising ships but perhaps instead stealing goods by rerouting containers, would use COPRAR / COPARN / CODECO / COARRI messages instead. These deal with shipping line to terminal messaging and vice versa.” reads the post published by Pen Test Partners.

“There’s evidence to suggest that ship and terminal messaging systems have been exploited in the past for routing drugs and theft of valuables.”

The experts at Pen Test Partners warned about the transmission channel used to send load plans from the ship to the port, they discovered that in many cases the personnel involved in the operations use USB devices for exchanging data between ship and terminal.

This procedure opens the door to a malware-based attack because the computer having load plan software might also be used for surfing the web or emailing.

Researcher claims that interoperability is vital between shipload plan and the various ports that it visits so that the load plan is securely transmitted to the port.

“Interoperability between the ship load plan and the hundreds of ports it may visit is essential – this leads to a race to the bottom in terms of securing and transmitting the load plan to the port. Simple = USB = vulnerable” states a separate report published by the security firm.

“This is ripe for attack. The consequences are financial, environmental and possibly even fatal.”

The  manipulation of load plans could have dramatic impact on the shipping lines, operators, terminals and ports have to continuously assess their infrastructure, including messaging systems.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Loan Plans, hacking)

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