SecProPort: Comprehensive IT security architecture protects ports from cyberattacks

29. Nov 2018 | Port management

Modern sea and inland ports are increasingly controlled by IT systems. The smooth exchange of information between port operators is of great economic importance. Even the shortest system failures can lead to significant financial losses. In the new SecProPort project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) with approximately 2.8 million euros, a consortium of industry and research is developing a security architecture that is intended to provide port logistics with comprehensive protection against cyber attacks.

KickOff to the SecProPort project

All traffic in the north of Germany was paralyzed because of an attack on the IT structure of the Bremen ports – a horror scenario, science fiction? Not. A similar situation occurred in the summer of 2017 after a cyberattack on IT systems by one of the world’s largest shipping companies – with significant economic consequences. One reason for the far-reaching consequences: Today, all actors involved in port transport – e.g. terminal operators, shipowners, forwarders, operators of port IT, railways, port authorities, customs – are interconnected with each other via their own historically grown IT systems in a complex port communication network. If an attacker succeeds in attacking this network – whether through an attack on a port actor’s IT system or as an internal offender – he can import manipulated messages into the entire system, such as manipulating container information, intercepting sensitive data, or blocking customs clearances. This may, at worst, lead to a total failure of all port operations, including the associated transport infrastructure.

Project objective: Comprehensive IT security architecture for the port communication network

Despite the major security risks, there is no comprehensive security architecture that protects the entire port communications network from such attacks. This is where the SecProPort joint project, launched on 1 November 2018, starts, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) as part of the Innovative Port Technologies (IHATEC) funding programme for a period of three years. The aim is to develop a general and comprehensive IT security architecture for the communication network used in ports. The innovative architecture is designed to support the various security requirements of the network’s work processes, protect them from sabotage, and prevent third parties from spying on sensitive data. In addition, the architecture will provide resilience measures to minimize the impact on other stakeholders in the network in the event of damage and to bring the affected network back to normal in a controlled manner.

Eight network partners combine expertise in port management and IT security

SecProPort Project

In order to implement the desired architecture, typical attack scenarios of the information processed in the port communication network are first analyzed. Based on this, the security architecture for the network is to be developed and implemented prototypically in cooperation with the application partners. The project takes a preventive approach: Security aspects of the development process play a central role from the outset in order to prevent major damage later on in the event of an attack. To ensure that this is successful, the project combines the expertise of eight project partners. Coordinated by dbh Logistics IT AG, these include actors from the port industry – BLG LOGISTICS GROUP AG & Co. KG, Duisburger Hafen AG and Hapag-Lloyd AG – as well as research institutions – DFKI GmbH, The Institute for Maritime Transport and Logistics (ISL) and the University of Bremen – and a service provider in the field of information security, datenschutz cert GmbH.