Conducting safe and efficient maritime shipping flows is essential to the future of product delivery.  Enter smart boxes, the use of technology to track and help deliver containers to end points with new efficiency.  Container-tracking technology allow shippers to offer innovative services to the overall supply chain path.  With this technology development, communication often is not compatible and hackers are always lurking in the corners to disrupt, both resulting in slowdowns, holding networks hostage or actually stealing products during delivery. 

As maritime tracking technology develops, many shippers are finding that these systems often times do not communicate with each other.  So, throughout the supply chain, communications errors may cause delivery disruption.  An example is presented explaining the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Maersk currently are both using tracking technology, yet these systems do not talk to each other.  Thus, if these two shippers are involved in a point A to end point B delivery chain, communication will undoubtedly cause a slowdown in product delivery.  Researchers state that, “the fundamental challenge we have is that as soon as you have the Internet of Things permanently fixed on assets (containers), you need to have interoperability.” 

There are several companies who are working to fix this interoperability issue.  A company called Traxens is taking a lead in establishing standards for Internet of Things devices on containers, and is chairing the United Nations Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business Committee on smart containers.[1] 

The interoperability tracking issues may become even more evident in business alliances, according to MSC.  MSC is an investor in container-tracking technology and will be installing its devices on 50,000 of their containers this year.  The MCS containers will likely be loaded onto Maersk vessels, so MSC would want to follow their containers on competitor vessels.  Industry cooperation will force standardization. 

BASF has offered to clarify that currently supporting multiple vendor tracking systems with interoperability is only practical for small quantities of containers.  BASF researchers explain, “If there is a different carrier using a different system, we can sustain it for a while, but ultimately we would be looking for integration into a single platform.  It is important that the (shipping) industry works towards the goal of interoperability.”  BASF is also working on “smart” containers and tracking solutions.

With the fierce push for “smart” maritime shipping, caution is offered to both shippers and ports alike, which are always high value targets of hacking activity.  On an almost daily basis anecdotal reports of minor port hacking occur.  Typically, a terminal’s network is open to shippers, shipping, road and rail companies with the potential for unauthorized network access.  The hack may be purely criminal as in changing a manifest or looking for proprietary shipping information.  The fear is that this “minor” activity, suggests some level of cyber reconnaissance where the motives are altogether worse.[2]  Hacking tactics can (and will) be used to infiltrate product tracking applications. 

Figure 1. Traxens container tracking device

How will shippers combat these new types infiltration?  Many in the industry feel that the last thing they need is more governmental regulation.  But what the sector may benefit from, along with rebalancing the present focus on cyber integration, is some level of mandatory industry guidance or regulation.  This will force it to meet a standard of care or reasonableness around cyber security; will mandate it to take appropriate measures to understand, deal with, and remediate the very real cyber risks faced in increasingly “virtual” vessel operations and ports.   

There is a genuine drive to make maritime shipping and port facilities cyber “smart.”  This current and new technology will only enhance, accelerate and make safe the shipment of consumer goods.  As this tracking technology evolves, the interoperability will soon be rectified, yet cyber safeguards must be implemented.  Wapack Labs actively monitors new developments to the Maritime Sector and will continue to report to our Red Sky Alliance members.    

About Wapack Labs

Wapack Labs, located in New Boston, NH, is a Cyber Threat Analysis and Intelligence organization supporting Red Sky Alliance membership, ISAC and ISAO communities, and individual corporations.  For questions or comments regarding this report, please contact the lab directly by at 1-844-492-7225, or



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