For thousands of years, civilizations have relied on maritime transport for goods and shipping. The Mediterranean Sea has been a busy area since Antiquity, including the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Phoenicians. For centuries, routes in the Indian Ocean connected the Middle East and Africa to India and Southeast Asia. And in the era of colonialism, ships traveled back and forth across the Atlantic between the Old World and the Americas.

There is a romantic notion to traveling the open seas. It evokes a sense of wonder, adventure, and freedom. Despite all the technological advances, including those that can move goods and people faster than ships, cargo shipping is still the top means of moving products internationally.

Port cities around the world have benefited from access to shipping routes. In many cases, their harbors had historical roles contributing to their growth, and their economies have diversified and matured partly thanks to the shipping industry. Even those that have developed robust, well-rounded economies still understand how lucrative and crucial their harbors are. Cybercriminals are well aware of their worth too.

The Port of Houston is by the far the busiest harbor in Texas. It connects Houston to the Gulf Coast and enables it to import and export goods and function as a major economic engine in Southeast Texas. A disruption to its operations would have dire consequences in the supply chain and economy. The port was targeted in a recent cyberattack—this story, however, has a happy ending.

Crisis Averted

In August 2021, the Port of Houston was attacked. Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, stated that she believed the attack to be from a nation-state, which could be attributed to espionage. However, if the intent were to go after critical infrastructure it could have been devastating on account of the port’s high volume of goods processed, what goes through the port, and the high economic cost.

Many of these cyberattacks end with sobering lessons in developing a data security strategy. Not only must the affected organization figure out how to prevent another attack from happening in the future, but they are also dealt a blow in their finances, reputation, trustworthiness, labor expense, and more when forced to clean up after the attack. The Port of Houston, however, fortunately averted a damaging attack.

The Port had a security plan in place and caught the attack early. Hackers infiltrated the web server through a vulnerability in password management software, which had up until the incident been unknown. The hackers then uploaded malicious code to gain more access to the IT system. Roughly 90 minutes after the breach, all login credentials were stolen from the Microsoft software. However, within minutes the port’s cybersecurity team isolated the server and cut off unauthorized access.

Securing Seaports

While the Port of Houston fended off an attack, cities of the United States’ coastlines and navigable rivers house important ports that make up the country’s critical infrastructure. This attack could just as easily have hit ports in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Honolulu, or anywhere else. It’s possible too one of these may not be so lucky next time.

While the Port of Houston did avoid disaster and proved to be a success story in an era of massive failures and damaging data breaches, it nonetheless serves as a reminder how crucial it is to have a system in place to prevent such an attack.

To learn more about how to create and implement an effective data security strategy, contact one of our experts today at 424-363-8535.

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