Running a fever

COMMENT: The initial shock of the Maersk/APM Terminals cyber breach was wearing off as the Jul/Aug issue of Port Strategy went to press, but the reality of dealing with the ripple effect of a major port business interruption was far from waning, writes Carly Fields.

While both companies have been effusive in their thanks for ongoing customer support and patience, that warm fuzzy feeling may soon sour when those same customers come knocking at their doors asking for compensation for lost revenue.

The June 27 attack – now thought to be caused by the NotPetya virus - sent IT systems down across multiple terminals and business units, including a number of terminals run by APMT.

In Africa, Onne, Cotonou and Tangier were hit. In Europe, it was Algeciras, APMT Rotterdam, Gothenburg, Izmir, Maasvlakte II and Poti. While in the Americas, Itajai, Los Angeles, Mobile, Port Elizabeth, South Florida and Tacoma all succumbed to the virus. Gateway Terminals India was also affected.

Cyber experts claim the NotPetya virus is designed to cause mayhem and not extort. So, did APMT have a lucky escape? APMT booked revenue of $4.17bn in 2016. The facilities that were knocked out are some of the cornerstones of the company’s 76 ports and terminals. In pure percentage terms, the shutdown of those terminals could have cost the group $2.4m per day in lost revenue, but this will likely be higher given the higher productivity weighting of some of the terminals hit. Looking at those financials, it’s hard to see this as a lucky escape.

As an industry, we are often berated for being over 10 years behind the curve when it comes to digitalisation and automation. When it comes to cyber attacks that laggardness works in our favour. Maersk is one of the most progressive companies in the shipping industry and in being in touch with its technology side it laid itself open to abuse of its cyber related vulnerabilities. On this occasion, only a fifth of its port and terminal network fell to the virus. If the industry were better connected, more transparent, and more automated – a state we are progressing toward at a snail-like pace - would more of APMT’s network crashed?

One week after the attack, the only terminal still unable to undertake loading or discharge on the rail or marine side was the company’s most technically sophisticated and fully automated one: Maasvlakte II. A sorry tale that automation at any cost should not be pursued if you don’t have the cyber protection to go with it.

Now, I’m not saying we should all hunker down and close any technology and automation related doors. We just need to take stock of cyber vulnerabilities and act on them fast. I encourage APMT to be open and transparent about the hows, whys, and the lessons learnt so that industry as a whole can improve with it.

Will that be enough? As a parting and, frankly, terrifying thought, I'm informed by those in the know on cyber stuff that viruses, worms and cyber bugs can infiltrate a system and lay dormant for a number of years. So, it’s not just a case of laying down protection for the future, a total top-to-bottom deep clean is needed at ports, terminals and all service providers connected to them to knock this virus-fuelled fever on the head.  


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