Cyber-attack breaches port security; containers hijacked

Organised criminals have employed hackers to launch a cyber-raid on port systems, pinpointing the locations of containers concealing smuggled drugs and releasing them to bogus drivers.

The impact of cyber-crime on the global ports and shipping industry has been highlighted by revelations made by Europol, the European police force. According to the agency, a number of raids have been carried out this year in the Netherlands and Belgium related to an international drug smuggling ring, focused around the Port of Antwerp.

Worryingly for the industry, a gang of organised criminals recruited internet hackers to break into the port technology systems of two companies in the port. They were then able to identify the location of certain containers in which consignments of drugs had been concealed. The containers were from bona fide shippers, but before the customers were able to collect their goods, the gang had sent in their own drivers. The breach of the technology system not only told the driver where to find the container, but also provided the necessary security codes which enabled the container to be released from the port.

The cyber breach occurred in two different ways. To begin with targeted employees were sent ‘malware’ by the hackers which allowed them to gain access to secure databases. When a firewall was installed to prevent this, the criminals broke into offices and physically installed devices on computers which could detect keystrokes, consequently providing them with passwords.

In one instance, when the criminals were not able to get to a container before it was removed by the rightful customer, they tracked it out of the port and then hijacked it in Limburg, in an armed raid.

Police have conducted a number of operations themselves, and this has resulted in cocaine and heroin being seized with a street value of several hundred million dollars. They say that the case was an example of organised crime utilising the services of internet hackers who were advertising their services on the ‘dark web’.

Commenting on the breach of security, John Manners-Bell, Ti’s CEO and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Logistics and Supply Chain Agenda Council, said, “The success of the cyber-attack on companies operating in the Port of Antwerp and the subsequent success of the organised gang in subverting container supply chains should send out a very clear message to the industry – cargo crime is moving to a new level of sophistication. If criminals are able to identify and steal containers in which drugs are concealed, there is no reason why they couldn’t use the same method to hijack consignments of high value goods such as electronics and pharmaceuticals. The implications of these revelations for supply chain integrity are enormous.”