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SDS 2019: Make your superyachts more secure warns hacking expert

A superyacht hacking expert has warned designers to prioritise their clients’ security after demonstrating how easy it is to hack a yacht. Speaking at the Superyacht Design Symposium, associate partner at Pen Test Partners Tony Gee revealed that the modern-day superyacht shares many similarities with the smart home.

Like smart homes, superyachts are riddled with modern technology designed to make the lives of owners and their guests easier, such as Wi-Fi, Smart TVs, audio systems, connected lighting, drones and smart mirrors. But all of these can be hacked, he said. “The problem is that all of this smart technology is very vulnerable and there’s quite a lot of ways for it to be attacked.”

He demonstrated how easy it is to hack these systems using services like Wigle.net and was even able to log into the satellite communications of a specific yacht live onstage. “Once I’m in your network, I can see everything that you can see,” he said. “Think about all of the systems that you have on a superyacht – CCTV, satellite communications, GPS and navigation.”

It is even possible to hack into the navigational systems of a yacht and re-write its location, so the yacht believes it is in a different location. “If I can tell your boat that it’s in a different location to where it thinks it is then I can even crash your boat,” he said.

He conceded that the captain on board would be capable of manually correcting the chart systems but posed the question of what would happen on an autonomous yacht. “What happens when there isn’t a captain? What happens when you’ve got autonomous yachts?” he asked. “They are relying on and trusting exactly the same systems that I’m now controlling.”

He urged designers to work harder to produce secure yachts and prioritise their clients’ security, as well as their privacy. “The marine industry is very behind,” he said. “You have to know that the boats you’re building and designing are secure because who do you think the owner and captain are going to come back to when their yacht has been hacked?” he asked.

Key advice for fighting cyber crime included recruiting the help of hacking experts, changing all default passwords and Wi-Fi access regularly and organising maintenance slots to update all systems.

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