When civilian vessels are transformed into cyber weapons

By Lucien Crowder | September 22, 2017


Has it ever occurred to you to hack into a merchant vessel’s computer system so you can use the ship as a weapon? If so, you’re probably a military planner. Or a security wonk. Or a sophisticated terrorist. Or an irredeemable sociopath. No one else would conceive of such a thing.

Well, conceive of it. After the USS McCain collided in August with a merchant vessel near the Strait of Malacca, killing 10 sailors, the Navy launched an investigation into whether a cyber attack could have been the cause. Such investigations are standard these days, according to Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr. of Breaking Defense. But if a cyber attack indeed caused the collision, the McCain itself wasn’t necessarily the direct target—instead, the merchant vessel would have made an easier mark. “If,” says naval IT expert John Zimmerman, “you hack the merchant’s radar so it provides no warning to the watchstander or the ship’s autopilot, you now have a 50,000-ton ballistic missile traveling at 15 knots.”

Great. Something brand new to worry about.

Publication Name: Breaking Defense
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