Hacking attacks on ports among new security threats, conference told

Data protection event hears organisations must be ready for new EU rules in 2018

There has been an increase in hacking attacks on ports by criminals such as drug traffickers, a conference in Dublin has heard.

A security expert told the annual data protection conference organised by the Irish Computer Society and the Association of Data Protection Officers that traffickers are hacking ports to mark certain shipments as checked when they had not been.

Last year, South Korea said hundreds of fishing vessels had returned early to port after its GPS signals were jammed by North Korea, which denied responsibility, and an earlier hack by drug traffickers diverted containers in Belgium’s Antwerp port.

Operators of essential services will be subject to the new EU Network Information and Security directive due to come into force next year, Andrew Harbison of Grant Thornton told the conference.


What constitutes an essential service will, however, have to be identified by individual member states within six months of the new directive coming into force in May 2018.


Mr Harbison said the law would apply to services whose disruption may have an impact on the entire economy and he noted recent so-called denial of service attacks on the websites of government departments and on service providers.

“It’s not just about the bus companies. It’s about the ports, it’s about air traffic control. There’s a growing trend in hacking ports. Why? Because drug traffickers want to muck about and designate certain containers as having been checked by customs when they haven’t been.”

Cathal Ryan of the Data Protection Commissioner's office told the event the office would be hiring 30 new expert staff and that the demands on it were "huge".

He urged professionals at the event to network more and to share information, stating that the office often had the same queries from several organisations, including local authorities.

Mr Ryan said organisations sometimes planned large projects with data protection implications “on the back of a beer mat”. Data protection could not be an afterthought, but had to be at the front and centre and the beginning of every project, he added.

Dara Murphy, Minister of State for European Affairs, the EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, told the event that Ireland would host a data summit on June 15th and 16th.

“This will be a major, two-day international conference bringing together a range of experts to consider and highlight some of the issues arising from the ever expanding role of data in modern life,” he said.