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January 12, 2016
Usually we say “black box” when we speak about flight data recorders, but these devices are implemented on ships as well. They are called Voyage Data Recorders, or VDRs. Maritime black boxes are required for all passenger and cargo vessels over 3,000 gross tons.
Just like an airplane’s black box, VDRs log everything what’s going on with a vessel at sea: weather conditions, radar images, position, speed and all audio communications. In case of an accident this device, placed into protective capsule with an acoustic beacon, becomes an automated version of ship’s logbook.
Hey, captain, what’s wrong with your vessel? Ships black boxes are vulnerable to hackers
VDR helps investigators clarify, what’s happened with a vessel and why. For example, this device was used in the trial against the captain and crew members of infamous Costa Concordia cruise liner. Their culpable negligence resulted in the death of more than 30 passengers and wreckage the ship.
VDRs are used to investigate disasters of all kinds, including environmental incidents. In 2007 container vessel Cosco Busan rammed into the protective fender of the Delta Tower of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog. More than fifty thousand US gal of heavy fuel oil spilled from its tanks into San Francisco Bay. The crew refused to cooperate, but data extracted from ship’s VDR helped the National Transportation Safety Board determine the causes of the incident.
What is a plane’s “black box” really? https://t.co/cXLa0FE3ba #airplanes pic.twitter.com/3iCiJ9m6sm
— Kaspersky Lab (@kaspersky) November 12, 2015
Unfortunately, sometimes voyage data recorders work not as good as they are cracked up to be. As the maritime industry in general, VDR developers do not care much about Internet security and protection of their connected devices. Besides, many shipowners use old solutions, which run outdated Windows XP. As a result, vulnerable devices with poor software update mechanisms and bad encryption frequently appear on the market. In this case all interested parties — from cybercriminals to seafarers and shipowners — can change or delete logged data, and that makes a VDR no good at all.
15 February 2012 Italian seafarers mistook two Indian fishermen for pirates and shot them. After the incident all crucial data recorded on VDR, produced by Furuno company, was found to be mysteriously corrupted. This incident resulted in a diplomatic scandal, and its investigation is still ongoing.