OPINION: Switch on to superyachts’ cyber-security threat


With the average price of superyachts at the Monaco Yacht Show estimated at €37.8 million, can you afford to take the cyber-security risk?  

It’s early September 2020. You are easing a superyacht into her narrow berth alongside the industry’s shiniest and finest in Port Hercules – ahead of the Monaco Yacht Show. Suddenly, and unaccountably, your luxury yacht fails to respond to its helm. A surge in power, lurches her to port, smashing expensively into the neighbouring superyacht.

Mercifully, no one is injured – except the insurers. Badly! Superyachts at this year’s Monaco Yacht Show cost on average €37.8 million  (£33.48 million) each. Now, this is a make-believe scenario. But it showcases a very real danger – the threat of cyber-crime. Criminals have the ability to hijack yachts, as has happened to several commercial vessels recently.

Of course, there are less dramatic but nonetheless disturbing, consequences stemming from cyber-crime. Imagine a hacker tracking the vessel’s movements on an Automatic Identification System (AIS) or its Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). What could they do with that information?

Images to blackmail owners or crew

Then, there is the risk of personal or commercial data being stolen. Cyber-security specialists have even raised the chilling prospect of hackers capturing control of onboard CCTV security cameras and using the images to blackmail owners or crew.

Last week, superyacht captain Iain Flockhart, in his View from the Bridge column for Superyacht Investor, highlighted a report from the British American Security Information Council warning of the cyber risks to the UK’s Faslane Nuclear Submarine Base. If Britain’s Trident nuclear missiles are deemed vulnerable, how much more so are superyachts?

The IDG 2019 Security Priorities Study, released in July, warned of smarter cyber-criminals, more-sophisticated malware and higher financial and national security stakes. The survey of 528 security professionals worldwide revealed half of analysts expected security spending to rise, while 46% expected budgets to remain flat and only 4% expected them to fall.

Security spending to increase

So, are superyacht owners, captains and management companies taking the threat seriously? It’s difficult to tell – which is just as it should be. It makes no sense to signal cyber defences to potential criminals.

A good starting point would be a cybersecurity check of your vessel. A free five-day survey was offered to superyacht owners, captains and managers at the Monaco Yacht Show. Atlas Cybersecurity working in partnership with technology and onboard entertainment firm VBH are offering the services of military-trained analysts to assess the threat.

Hijack and blackmail are just two cyber-threats.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

For more opinions from Superyacht Investor, subscribe to our email newsletter.

Subscribe here