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Blake Dowling: The next great cyberthreat — ports

When I was 12 years old, my dad took me to the port of Houston for lunch on an international shipping vessel with the captain.

Dad’s company had a large amount of goods on the ship, so lunch was offered as a customer service gesture.

The captain traveled with his entire family, and the first mate had his wife on board as well. They had very cool family quarters that consisted of a kitchen, library/game room, living room as well as bedrooms.

Not so much for the rest of the crew, tight quarters, lots of bunk beds and tiny rooms. I cannot imagine being at sea for months at a time.

The bridge was straight out of Star Trek; I will never forget the experience.

(Wasn’t there a character in “The Royal Tennenbaums” who hid out on a shipping vessel? Great flick.)

This website shows some interesting quarters and the layout of a Canadian shipping line and one of their vessels.

The shipping game has changed quite a bit since those days: massive ships, smaller crews (bigger cabins, hopefully) more automation and additional tech.

And with all this innovation — guess what comes next? You got it, the threat of a cyber incident.

As the shipping industry looks toward automated vessels, security becomes even more critical. How close is that day for arriving? Check out this report from World Maritime News.

Earlier this year, the British held a trial run with a small cargo ship with no crew, safely navigating one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More on that here.

I can think of three places where I would not want a cyber-incident of any kind: at sea, in space and a plane.

This month, the Coast Guard launched a cybersecurity warning to the maritime world. This was put together after some kind of cyberthreat infected a ship headed to New York. When you think that a few clicks of the mouse control the navigation of one of these massive vessels, a cyber threat sounds capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc.

During the 2019 Legislative Session here in Florida, $2 million was allocated to enhance security at our state’s 14 ports; one can assume a portion of that will be directed toward cybersecurity measures specifically.

Speaking of those ports, maritime activities provide over 900,000 jobs in Florida, a significant part of our state’s economy.

I reached out to the Florida Ports Council to have them weigh in about security at these crucial locations.

“Cybersecurity measures and activities have been a part of every port’s security plan for several years now,” said Doug Wheeler, Florida Ports Council President and CEO. “Seaports, their private sector tenants, and any vessels using a Florida seaport are required under federal law to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved security plan that must include cybersecurity efforts as part of that plan.”

As with any sector of government or business, shipping and ports have cybersecurity top of mind, as the potential for threats exists each day.

Whether on land or sea (or even space, I can’t even imagine ransomware on the International Space Station), hackers and cyber-malcontents are going after you.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at

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