Cyber-threats: the new battleground for supply chains

For many years, security in the logistics and transportation sector has been designed to combat the disruption of operations from physical threats such as bombs or thefts. However, as the industry becomes ever more reliant on what has been termed ‘infostructure’ – the information and communications systems required to ensure the running of trains, road traffic, ships and airplanes –this emphasis is changing rapidly.

Whether it is the signalling systems which control the flow of trains, the information transferred from air traffic control to airplanes or port management systems managing the off-loading of container ships, opportunities exist for criminal gangs, terrorists, foreign governments or even so-called ‘hactivists’ to cause economic damage or even loss of life by means of cyber-attacks.

Although many organisations and companies have been keen to deny that their systems are exposed to the threat, there is increasingly widespread industry concern. There are also implications for the wider public – for example, mainstream media has picked up on recent research that has found that it is possible to hack the vehicle management systems of private cars.

In the airline sector, the transfer of real-time automated data from ground to aircraft is now a reality which will help increase efficiencies, including the better utilisation of already crowded airspace. Whilst this has undisputed benefits, the corruption of these data – either accidental or deliberate – could lead to serious navigation errors with disastrous implications.

The logistics industry also faces threats, not so much to the control of transport assets, but to the goods themselves which are being moved or stored. In terms of data, supply chain networks could be described as being inherently insecure, with parties encouraged to share information with their suppliers and their customers. The availability of data heightens the risk that the integrity or confidentiality of that shared information could be compromised.

The increasing emphasis on cyber-security is no more apparent than in the ports industry. Since 9/11, one of the highest priorities for US administrators has been to prevent disruption to the country’s sea ports which facilitate 95% of the nation’s imports. The US authorities are realising that improving physical barriers is only part of the solution and moves are underway to draft legislation that would establish cyber-security standards across the port sector as a whole.

If authorities and industry are to effectively address the threat posed to supply chains and transport infrastructure they must adopt a holistic approach which includes a strategy to deal with cyber threats as well as those emanating from more traditional sources.

Cyber threats to supply chains is one of the subject covered in the Logistics and Supply Chain Global Agenda Councils ‘Outlook on the Logistics & Supply Chain Industry 2013′.

In addition, the topic will be covered at Transport Intelligence’s upcoming Emerging Markets Logistics Conference in Singapore, September 24-26, 2013. Click here for more information.