Cyberspace and big data: major development issues for the naval segment
The solitude of the seaman is now a myth. With the exception of a handful of long-distance sailors with a fondness for navigating without GPS, radio or Argos beacons, the overwhelming majority of civil and military vessels now move in a connected universe, even in the middle of the ocean.
In a globalised economy characterised by “just in time” practices and perpetual cost optimisation, merchant ships, which transport 80% of world goods(1), now operate in a dense transit system, and have to meet strict deadlines and stringent regulatory requirements. Because the slightest unforeseen event is liable to generate additional costs, or even the loss of a customer, and because each sinking, as well as resulting in a loss of merchandise and, at worst, the vessel’s crew, might cause an environmental disaster with dramatic consequences for the image of the parties involved, they are acquiring the IT tools that enable them to constantly and effectively pre-empt sailing difficulties. Radar, anti-collision systems, GPS, constant updating of meteorological data and the AIS map(2) etc. were the forerunners of a burgeoning stream of technological innovations. Sailors are now as heavily dependent on cyberspace as other connected citizens. And naval seamen are even more dependent.
Big Data: power factors
Controlled access to big data is a powerful catalyst for operational effectiveness. Dedicated databases can be drawn on to analyse, in real time, the environment through which a vessel is sailing, examine its changing nature and notify the crew of any anomalies or threats detected. Thales is today providing navies with categorised, ranked data, taken for instance from the RETEX(3) from previous operations. This information, handled by systems using specific algorithms, is parsed and processed in such a way that, combined with radar, radio and electromagnetic data, makes it possible to identify and classify, increasingly rapidly, the different “spots” detected at sea. In this way a typology of predictable behaviours can be established according to the other vessels or aircraft operating in the same theatre as the ship and then action can be taken based on an attitude calculated to be suspect or hostile. A craft identified by AIS and sailing at 10 knots in coastal waters, but accelerating suddenly to 50, thus raises an alert and decision-making assistance is offered almost instantly to the crew… Based on a classification of suspect behaviours compiled over time, this capability enables the crew to act quickly and as precisely as possible when combating the trafficking by sea of drugs, weapons, human beings, counterfeit goods, etc., or piracy, and is a precious asset in the context of a high-intensity conflict.
Automated uses of databases also allow crew members to focus on their most mission-critical tasks
The use of big data, and the cross-referencing and mutual enrichment of tactical on-board databases and strategic databases communicated from land, can give crews a decisive edge over their adversary by beating them in the information battle. These tools enable crews to predict enemy actions, to adopt ad hoc safeguards more quickly, and to significantly shorten the OODA(4) loop thanks to the almost instantaneous processing of the data needed for action.
By enabling the immediate analysis of information and helping to provide decision-making assistance, automated uses of databases also allow crew members to focus on their most mission-critical tasks.
Optimised data processing: a cost management tool
Moreover, the analysis of data collected from sensors fitted on a vessel, whether civil or military, will in the future help make considerable improvements to the job of keeping ships in service, while also very significantly reducing their maintenance costs.
In air transport, a sector where Thales is a major player, a study of data logged for five years showed that these embedded measurement systems saved as much as 50% on the cost of maintaining IFE(5) systems. While it was common practice, as a precautionary measure, to change the components in these systems regularly, to prevent any faults that might cause customer dissatisfaction, it is now possible to carry out predictive maintenance thanks to in-built sensors. These constantly assess the degree of wear of components and hardware, making it possible to identify the need to replace only the specific subsystem concerned and to define very precisely when it needs to be done, instead of in some cases changing a whole subsystem as a precautionary measure. This ensures the right level of investment and the greatest possible reliability.
Big data will enable vessels, by using augmented reality, to conduct maintenance operations at sea
Such practices are perfectly conceivable in a maritime environment. Whether the boat is a frigate or an LNG carrier, the instruments exist — they just need to be adapted to specific needs. They will make it possible not only to reduce costs, but also, by replacing some components, to adapt each vessel, in advance, to the type of mission it will need to carry out. A vessel sailing inside the Arctic Circle or in equatorial waters might thus, prior to setting sail, adapt its most critical systems to the meteorological systems it will encounter. This will also eliminate the need to carry unnecessary spare parts or equipment, and therefore limit on-board storage.
The implications go wider. Big data will enable vessels, by using augmented reality, to conduct maintenance operations at sea that would previously have been inconceivable without the presence of a specialist on board. From land, Thales can now put such a specialist in contact with a duty crew member so that the latter can make, under the technician’s remote supervision, the necessary repairs to a turbine, an electronic system, etc. By equipping the sailor carrying out the repairs with connected glasses, his contact on land can assist with the maintenance operations and guide him, while at the same time instructions appear in the sailor’s field of vision, telling him where the part to be changed is, its serial number, and the process to implement to complete the repair.
A challenge: adapting and managing cybersecurity
However, the use of big data is a source of vulnerabilities that must not be overlooked. In the future, a vessel will have to process an increasingly large amount and variety of data in real time. It will have to be capable of managing the size (receipt of millions of items per second) and speed (receipt, storage and instant processing of information, including cross-checks with databases that might be several terabytes or even petabytes in size) of information flows, and the variety of information sources (sensors, connected objects, different systems, etc.). These operations will have to be carried out in a restricted environment. Ships only have limited long-distance communication links, mainly satellite links, and have to cope with the associated bandwidth constraints. As for warships, they must be able to manage these data in the face of kinetic and/or cyberkinetic threats. The more technologies emerge that incorporate embedded IT, the more opportunities there will be for hacking by potential aggressors if these technologies rely on unsecure data distribution channels. Such an assailant might be able to take remote control of the ship via an insufficiently secure connection(6). He might neutralise weapons systems, scramble satellite links, depriving the vessel of its GPS navigation or AIS instruments, and disrupt communications with land or other vessels. Additional processing capacity will therefore be needed to ensure cybersecurity, via adapted processes: making critical devices more resilient, protecting data flows, detecting intrusions and reacting to ensure mission continuity under cyber attack.
The more technologies emerge that incorporate embedded IT, the more opportunities there will be for hacking by potential aggressors
That is why it is necessary to implement, at a very early stage, during the design of an embedded system, solutions that will enable vessels to contain attempted cyberattacks. Based on a risk assessment incorporating operational scenarios and therefore the most likely threats, the architecture will adopt the best technological choices, implementing the right levels of security from the outset. Each resource critical to the operation of the ship must be tested individually before being tested in its target context, using penetration tests representative of attempts likely to be made by an attacker. This demands close collaboration at the development phase between the different players involved. The way in which Thales, DCNS, all original equipment manufacturers with a stake in this type of issue, and the French navy have worked together on a number of programmes exemplifies the approach to be adopted. The development of controlled detection capabilities, “probes”, which detect intrusions and carry out investigations within systems themselves, considerably reduces the exposure to risk and aids the identification of faults to be corrected by the subcontractors concerned.
But while interlinked systems defence is essential, both at a deep level and dynamically, it will not be enough in itself. We will also need tools that deliver effective perimeter defence, in other words defence of the operating environment of vessels in the face of attacks, because their connectivity can leave them exposed in unexpected ways. In every port ships are accessed by a variety of personnel, notably for maintenance operations, creating the potential for access to critical software or hardware resources. These stopovers, particularly in a less secure civil context, are opportunities for cyberattack systems to be deployed on board ships(7). Regular procedures designed to validate the counter-measures installed during testing must be followed whenever a vessel sets sail. Thales, which protects 80% of paperless global financial transactions, boasts undeniable experience and technological expertise in this area. The group conducts constant, globalised monitoring of cyberattack processes, and is well placed to help any organisation or individual to perform batteries of tests to measure the resilience of security systems to state-of-the-art attacks. By identifying vulnerabilities in this way, it is able to upgrade the systems concerned and build their resistance to hacking.
As a specialist in data transfer and management, Thales is now a leading player in big data and cyberdefence in the naval segment. The group has developed systems enabling civil and military actors(8) to operate interconnectedly via a network of secure communication tools and databases, delivering a shared, real-time vision of operations, and ensuring that they are protected against cyberattack. It offers the best solutions for a safer, more secure sea.
(1) 9.8 billion tonnes in 2014.
(2) Automatic Identification System
(3) Named after the French for “Feedback” (RETour d’EXpérience), RETEX is a system that helps improve defence systems by assessing how they respond to operational realities and suggesting solutions to any shortcomings.
(4) Observe, Orient, Decide and Act
(5) In Flight Entertainment
(6) Authentication, data integrity and encryption
(7) A Trojan Horse, a malware program targeting a resource and potentially actionable remotely, etc
(8) Such as Aquilon, which controls all vessels’ internal and external communications, and CYBELS (CYBer Expertise for Leading Security), which defends embedded systems against cyberattack.