December 14, 2017

Shipping lines turn to WWII-era tech to foil hackers

Simple radio navigation system could prevent hostile programmers from throwing ships off course.

By DC Velocity Staff

Digitalization, wireless networks, and the Internet of Things (IOT) have allowed the 21st century supply chain to achieve levels of efficiency and visibility that were unimaginable a generation ago. But sometimes that progress comes at a price. For instance, in June, logistics professionals around the globe discovered that for all its benefits, that hyperconnectivity also opened up new vulnerabilities when the "Petya" ransomware attack crippled operations at shipping giant Maersk Line.

Now, some ocean carriers are turning to an old-school remedy to reduce their exposure to certain cyber attacks. Out of concern that hackers could jam the global positioning system (GPS) signals used by cargo ships to navigate, several nations are considering replacing modern satellite-based systems with legacy World War II-era radio technology, according to Reuters.

The technology in question is an earthbound navigation system known as eLoran, a descendant of the LORAN (long-range navigation) technology used during World War II, and which scientists say is relatively impervious to hacking. While hostile programmers can disrupt distant satellite signals with inexpensive jamming devices, they would need large antennas and powerful electricity sources to defeat eLoran's local radio signals, Reuters said. Countries including South Korea, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. are exploring various versions of the technology and weighing whether it is more economical to build a new network of transmitter stations or to dust off and upgrade existing, albeit decades-old, stations.

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