U.S. Navy May Be Cyber-Attack Victim


We may have another cyber threat on our hands and it’s not looking good. The Pentagon won’t release information yet, but it looks like the recent military accidents are a result of cyber-attacks.

Military Accidents That Shouldn’t Happen

The U.S.S. John McCain was rammed by an oil tanker near Singapore, which shouldn’t be happening. Our military has state of the art technology and the U.S. military has relied on it for decades. Now the red flags are flying after the heavy-reliance on the electronic guiding systems are failing. It looks increasingly like a cyber-attack. This is the fourth incident this year involving a Seventh Fleet warship. The collision happened near the Strait of Malacca which is a crowded 1.7-mile waterway which connects the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. The strait accounts for 25% of global shipping.

“When you are going through the Strait of Malacca, you can’t tell me that a Navy destroyer doesn’t have a full navigation team going with full lookouts on every wing and extra people on radar,” said Jeff Stutzman, chief intelligence officer at Wapack Labs, a New Boston, New Hampshire, cyber intelligence service.

“There’s something more than just human error going on because there would have been a lot of humans to be checks and balances,” said Stutzman, a former information warfare specialist in the Navy.

The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, didn’t rule out cyber intrusion or sabotage as a cause of the collision.

This Has Happened Before

The Navy has suffered other such incidents. On January 31st, a guided missile cruiser, the U.S.S. Antietam, ran aground off the coast of Japan. On May 9th, the U.S.S. Lake Champlain was struck by a South Korean fishing vessel. Then on June 17th, the U.S.S. Fitzgerald collided with a container ship resulting in 7 sailor’s deaths. The Fitzgerald was a $1.5 billion ship that was filled with electronics. The commanding officer and two other officers were relieved of duty. “I don’t have proof, but you have to wonder if there were electronic issues,” Stutzman said. Check out the rest of the info:

These irregularities are affecting the shipping industry too.

In a little noticed June 22 incident, someone manipulated GPS signals in the eastern part of the Black Sea, leaving some 20 ships with little situational awareness. Shipboard navigation equipment, which appeared to be working properly, reported the location of the vessels 20 miles inland, near an airport.

That was the first known instance of GPS “spoofing,” or misdirection.

Much more serious than jamming, spoofing interferes with location even as computer screens offer normal readouts. Everything looks normal – but it isn’t.

“We saw it done in, I would say, a really unsubtle way, a really ham-fisted way. It was probably a signal that came from the Russian mainland,” Humphreys said.

Such spoofing once required expensive equipment and deep software coding skills. But Humphreys said it can now be done with off-the-shelf gear and easily attainable software.

“Imagine the English Channel, one of the most highly trafficked shipping lanes in the world, and also subject to bad weather. Hundreds and hundreds of ships are going back and forth. It would be mayhem if the right team came in there and decided to do a spoofing attack,” Humphreys said.

The U.S. military uses encrypted signals for geolocation of vessels, rather than commercial GPS. Humphreys said there is no indication that faulty satellite communications were a culprit in the USS McCain accident.

Global shipping also was disrupted following a worldwide attack June 27 that hit hundreds of thousands of computers. Shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk was reduced to manual tracking of cargo amid the attack, and its chief executive Soren Skou this month announced losses of up to $300 million.

Most global trade occurs on the high seas, and the number of ocean-going ships has quadrupled in the past quarter century. Ships are also getting larger. The largest container ship now can carry more than 21,000 20-foot containers.

Autonomous ships operated by computers are on the near-term horizon. The world’s first crewless ship, an electric-powered vessel with capacity for 100 to 150 cargo containers, will begin a 37-mile route in southern Norway with limited crew next year, transitioning to full autonomy in 2020.

Most ships avoid collision through the use of a global protocol known as Automatic Identification System, or AIS. Beacons aboard ships transmit vessel name, cargo, course and speed, and readouts aboard ships display other vessels in the vicinity.

But the AIS system is known to be vulnerable.

“You can send an AIS beacon out and claim just about whatever you like. You can make a phantom ship appear,” Humphreys said.

It’s not just cargo carriers that rely on GPS and AIS beacons.

“Passenger shipping organizations and cruise lines … can be easily impacted,” said Eduardo E. Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm.

Other factors can cause breeches on shipboard systems. Stutzman said crews rotate constantly, meaning shipboard log-on procedures are often simple and shared widely. Moreover, ship crews often download quantities of movies, books, and music while onshore to fight boredom while at sea, often linking to onboard networks and exposing them to viruses.

Source: McClatchy DC Bureau