Hackers can now bring cargo ships and planes to a grinding halt

Container cargo ships sit off shore from the Long Beach/Los Angeles port complex in Long Beach, CA, on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

Jeff Gritchen | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Armed with little more than a computer, hackers are increasingly setting their sights on some of the biggest things that humans can build.

Vast container ships and chunky freight planes — essential in today’s global economy — can now be brought to a halt by a new generation of code warriors.

“The reality is that an aeroplane or vessel, like any digital system, can be hacked,” David Emm, a principal security researcher at cyber firm Kaspersky, told CNBC.

Indeed, this was proven by the U.S. government during a “pen-test” exercise on a Boeing aircraft in 2019.

Hacking logistics

Often it’s easier, however, to hack the companies that operate in ports and airports than it is to access an actual aircraft or vessel.

In December, German firm Hellmann Worldwide Logistics said its operations had been impacted by a phishing attack. Phishing attacks involve sending spoof messages designed to trick people into handing over sensitive information or downloading harmful software.

The company, which offers airfreight, sea freight, road and rail, and contract logistics services, was forced to stop taking new bookings for several days. It’s unclear exactly how much it lost in revenue as a result.

Hellmann’s Chief Information Officer Sami Awad-Hartmann told CNBC that the firm immediately tried to “stop the spread” when it realized it had fallen victim to a cyberattack.

“You need to stop it to ensure that it’s not going further into your [computing] infrastructure,” he said.

Hellmann, a global company, disconnected its data centers around the world and shut down some of its systems to limit the spread.

“One of the drastic decisions we then made when we saw that we had some systems infected is we disconnected from the internet,” Awad-Hartmann said. “As soon as you make this step, you stop. You’re not working anymore.”

Everything had to be done manually and business continuity plans kicked in, Awad-Hartmann said, adding that some parts of the business were able to handle this better than others.

Awad-Hartmann said the hackers had two main…