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The Baltimore Incident: Mechanical Failure or Deliberate Cyberattack?

For the record, I have been known to dip my toes into the crazy conspiracy pool and review or comment on weird events or government actions which seem suspect at the time. This time however, I’m posting the question as there suddenly appeared a lot of container ship captains and nautical engineers on social media around 4 a.m. this morning.

I am not a naval expert, nor former captain, but I am a thinker and can actual read and digest threats to determine logical courses of action or solutions to potential problems.

But the fact that a 948 foot container ship suddenly, the MV Dali, lost power then briefly regained power before losing it again then slammed off course into the Francis Scott Key bridge raises many questions.

First and foremost, was this just a run of the mill mechanical failure or something worse?

Secondly, the reason to throw the “something worse” scenario out is that America is at war. Like it or not the Chinese, Russians, and USA have been engaged in an ongoing economic and cyber conflict for over half a decade now. What better way to attack and sabotage a major power than immobilizing one of the top nine US ports for several weeks?

Lastly one has to ask, why attack a container ship inside US waters? For the same reason that US cyber-warriors have been attacking Russian infrastructure for years now along with rumored attacks on the Chinese also perhaps?

Add in our long term antagonists in the Middle East and finding a nation, group, or even profiteering bunch of hackers willing to commit such a heinous act is not hard to find.

Instead of presenting my opinion I shall hold my water until the very end of this piece. I think it is better to present a list of articles from the last five years along with excerpts of from some of the key stories and let my readers decide on their own.

How to hack a Navy vessel – August 26, 2017 The Hill

U.S. Navy Investigating if Destroyer Crash Was Caused by Cyberattack – September 14, 2017, Foreign Policy

Excerpt:

If hackers breached the McCain’s digital defenses, it would represent a startling development in naval warfare. American intelligence officials have theorized that hackers working on behalf of an enemy state could conceivably hack into a ship’s computer systems and blind its commander by, for example, displaying an inaccurate location of the ship on its charts.

Such a deception could conceivably result in a nighttime crash, such as the McCain‘s. The merchant vessel Alnic MC struck the ship’s left, or port, side and left a huge gash in its hull.

Tracking & hacking ships with Shodan & AIS – January 3, 2018 PenTest Partners (Security Consulting and Testing Services)

Container Ships Easy to Hack, Track, Send off Course, and Even Sink Security Experts Say – June 5, 2018 The Security Ledger

Coast Guard Details February Cyberattack on Ship – July 26, 2019 Wall Street Journal

Could Oil Ship Wakashio Been Hacked Before Mauritius Spill? – October 26, 2020 Forbes

Excerpt:

How could one of the largest ships in the ocean have been off course for four days , without anyone being aware – no-one on board, at the Head Office of either the Owner or the Charterer, or the Mauritian Coastguard (headed by an Indian military officer). The ship crashed into Mauritius’ Coral Reefs at a cruising speed. Even more troubling, the $14 billion charterer of the ship, Japanese giant Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) was not made aware of this event for four and a half hours, according to statement from their spokesperson, made to Forbes on September 27. Even then, a third party – the shipowner – had to inform MOL.

Was the Ever Given hacked in the Suez Canal? – April 13, 2021 ControlGlobal.com

Cyber Pirates Prowling Ship Controls Threaten Another Big Shock – June 28, 2022 Bloomberg

Hackers can bring ships and planes to a grinding halt. And it could become much more common – June 27, 2022 CNBC

I hacked the ship to prove the “Ever Given” container ship alike accident using only 3 free tools from the Internet – July 19, 2022 CoolTechZone

Hackers could re-create Ever Given grounding in Suez Canal – November 2, 2022 Container News

Hackers Have Found a New Incentive to Target Shipping – December 19, 2022 Maritime Excecutive

How many cargo ships were affected by a recent cyber attack on DNV? – January 18, 2023 – Government Technology

Excerpt:

Answer – 1,000

Chinese state-sponsored hackers infiltrated U.S. naval infrastructure, secretary of the Navy says – May 25, 2023 CNBC

US conducted cyberattack on suspected Iranian spy ship, NBC News reports – February 15, 2024 – Reuters

This brings everyone back full circle to the story of the MV Dali and the “accident” this morning. From the story about the disaster via the UK Daily Mail comes this interesting quote:

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said on Tuesday morning it appears none of the 22 crewmembers were injured, as he revealed it was being steered by the specialist pilots.

Initial radio and television reports indicated it was the vessel’s crew piloting the ship which I found highly unusual having worked in a major US port in my past. Thus knowing this was being maneuvered through the harbor and out past the bridge by the pilots is a relief. That brings up the problems where the insistence this was an accident however come into play.

Container ships like the MV Dali, built in 2015, have redundant systems which should have prevented the vessel from drifting off course in the harbor or allowed corrective action to be initiated from the engineer. Initial reports claimed there was a 13 knot crosswind but the news stories as they came out later in the day indicate winds were 5 to 6 knots, hardly enough to cause the ship to drift off course without the capacity to correct itself.

So for the sake of discussion, let’s review some articles for one of the oldest and most foremost experts on insurance and international shipping, Lloyd’s of London and their informative website, Lloyd’s List.

Ethical hacker says ships are wide open to cyber attack – May 27, 2021

Excerpt:

Fuel and cargo systems could be hacked to trick a ship into thinking it was off balance.

If the ship thinks it’s off balance, its propulsion will not work. And if you’re in a certain kind of canal, or if you’re in a certain type of water, that can be intentionally used to either clog up the canal or to cause piracy and things like that.”

webinar this week heard how cyberattacks were one of the biggest security threats to the shipping industry but incident reporting is “virtually non-existent”.

Incident reporting is “non-existent” because it would not only panic insurance markets but financial markets. Keep that thought in the back of one’s mind as my readers review the next story.

One ship is hacked every day on average – July 6, 2021

Excerpt:

Marine cyber risk consultancy CyberOwl chief executive Daniel Ng added: “At the moment we are identifying one new incident a day on average, to give some sense of the scale of this.”

If the US Navy can be hacked, Evergreen can be hacked. If Evergreen can be hacked, Maersk or MOL can be hacked. But why hack a vessel in the harbor of Baltimore, MD which has caused such extensive damage?

Review the stories that I listed above. The US Navy hacked an Iranian spy ship operating off the coast of Yemen recently. Could that make clogging up a busy container port make for a juicy target for Iranian hackers? Obviously the answer is yes.

Or perhaps blowing up a pipeline in the Baltic Sea which formerly supplied the majority of natural gas into Germany and northern Europe be justification for the Russia cyber warriors to meticulously plan an attack with no fingerprints on an American port causing billions of dollars in damage and lost income?

Obviously, again, the answer is yes.

America has made a lot of enemies in the past forty plus years, some new ones along with old Cold War conflicts renewed. Many have long stated that the next world war would be a cyberwar, yet here we are finding any reason to deny the obvious to prevent the American public from acting in panic and taking all of their money out of the bank or refusing to drive over bridges, fly on commercial airplanes, or ride on trains due to this threat.

Welcome to World War III.

Enjoy the show until the water stops flowing in your sink, the internet and cell phone network collapses, the ATM quits working, and the power goes out.

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