The shipping supply chain is stressed from Covid. That makes it ripe for hackers.

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The global supply chain, where goods are shipped all over the world, is already stretched thin thanks to a year and a half of operating during a pandemic. It really doesn’t need hackers mucking things up further.

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But experts warn that the $100 billion shipping industry — especially the heavily computerized ports that receive cargo ships, as well as the actual crafts — are ripe targets for ransomware attacks. And the U.S. shipping industry is already backed up, as the coronavirus pandemic has caused a backlog with Americans ordering more goods to their home than ever before.


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Ransomware can hamper practically any organization that’s connected to the internet: Schools, hospitals, manufacturers, city governments and police departments are all frequent targets. But the shipping industry, more than most, relies heavily on the interaction between a number of different digital systems, from ports and cities to individual ships and the companies that own them.

That makes shipping particularly susceptible to cyberattack, said Rear Admiral John Mauger, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy.

“This is an industry that relies on free flow of information,” Mauger said. “And as such, they are vulnerable to disruptions because of ransomware attacks.”

Ransomware, a criminal enterprise where a hacker or hacker group will encrypt a victim’s computers and demand a payment to restore them, has surged in recent years. But only in June, with the hack of a major U.S. oil pipeline, did the worry that ransomware could interrupt critical infrastructure take hold.

The White House has expressed particular concern about ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure, issuing an executive order mandating such companies adopt some basic cybersecurity standards and asking President Vladimir Putin to rein in hackers in Russia, where many ransomware operators live.

But so far, at least some hackers don’t appear to have gotten the message. At least five U.S. health care facilities — which, like the shipping industry, are among the country’s 16 categories of critical infrastructure — have been hit with ransomware since…