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Pirates Hack & Attack

Piracy on the high seas is alive and well, and it appears they have a new strategy - hacking. Find out how modern pirates exploited online vulnerabilities in order to carry out targeted attacks.
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Pirates Hack & Attack
Piracy Meets Digital Age
Modern Piracy
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Piracy Meets Digital Age

Published: 14 March 2016

During the course of several months last year, a global shipping conglomerate fell victim to a series of hit-and-run attacks by pirates. The nature of these incidences prompted the unnamed company to contact Verizon's security team which released details of its investigation earlier this month.

"Rather than spending days holding boats and their crew hostage while they rummaged through the cargo, these pirates began to attack shipping vessels in an extremely targeted and timely fashion," the report said. "Specifically, they would board a shipping vessel, force the crew into one area and within a short amount of time they would depart."

After the crew had left their safe rooms, they discovered "the pirates had headed straight for certain cargo containers" of high value. This in turn alerted the shipping company to the possibility "the pirates had specific knowledge of the contents of each of the shipping crates being moved."

Armed with this information, the Verizon team was able to isolate a network intrusion which exploited vulnerabilities relating to the shipping company's internal Contact Management System (CMS). Pirates had used the hack to glean intelligence prior to an attack, isolating ships and containers of interest well in advance.

In years gone by, targeted attacks by pirates was often regarded as a red flag for corruption, where officials or carrier employees were paid off in exchange for confidential cargo information and movement schedules. Verizon's discovery identifies a new high-tech strategy.


A scene from Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. Pirates seize control of a container ship (based on a true story).

Modern Piracy

According to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) there were 190 incidents of piracy reported worldwide in 2015, with a further 26 cases recorded to date this year alone.

The following details an unfolding incident, where pirates have hijacked a product tanker off the coast of Nigeria.

Armed pirates attacked and hijacked a product tanker enroute from Lome to Bata. The Owners lost communication with the tanker and reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre who in turn notified the authorities in the region. It was reported that the pirates shot and seriously injured one crew member. Before escaping the pirates damaged the communication equipment and kidnapped five crew members. The remaining crew members managed to sail the tanker to Benin where a navy patrol boat assisted in the evacuation of the injured crew member. The tanker was then escorted to Cotonou anchorage for investigation.

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