For many years, security in the logistics and transportation sector has mainly focused on combating threats such as bombs or theft. However, as the industry becomes increasingly reliant on what has been termed “infostructure” – the information and communications systems required to ensure the running of trains, cars, ships and aircraft – this emphasis is changing rapidly.

Whether it is the signalling systems that control trains, the information transferred from air traffic control to aircraft, or port management systems for offloading container ships, opportunities exist for criminal gangs, terrorists, or even so-called “hactivists” to cause economic damage, and loss of life, by means of cyber-attacks.

Although many organizations and companies are keen to stress that their systems can withstand cyber-attacks, there is increasingly widespread concern. There are also implications for the public. For example, the media has picked up on recent research indicating that it is possible to hack into vehicle management systems.

In the airline sector, the transfer of real-time automated data from ground to aircraft is now a reality helping to make more efficient use of crowded airspace. The corruption of such data – either accidental or deliberate – could lead to serious navigation errors with disastrous consequences.

The logistics industry also faces threats, not so much to the control of transport assets, but to the goods that are being moved or stored. In terms of data, supply chain networks could be described as being inherently insecure, with parties encouraged to share information with suppliers and their customers. The availability of data heightens the risk that the integrity or confidentiality of that shared information may be compromised.

The increasing emphasis on cyber security is no more apparent than in the ports industry. Since 9/11, one of the highest priorities for US administrators has been to prevent disruption to American sea ports, which facilitate 95% of the country’s imports. The US authorities are realizing that improving physical barriers is only part of the solution and moves are under way to draft legislation that would establish cyber-security standards across the port sector as a whole.

If authorities and industry are to effectively address the threat posed to supply chains and transport infrastructure, they must adopt a holistic approach, which includes a strategy to deal with cyber threats as well as those emanating from more traditional sources.

Cyber threats to supply chains is one of the subjects covered in the Outlook on the Logistics & Supply Chain Industry 2013 by the Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chains.

Author: John Manners-Bell is Chief Executive Officer, Transport Intelligence, United Kingdom; Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chains.

Image: Air traffic controllers are seen in the control tower at Manchester Airport, Northern England REUTERS/Phil Noble.