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A maritime cybernetic security center opens in Montreal

MONTRÉAL – Polytechnique Montréal, Neptune Cyber and Davie Shipbuilding, have announced on Friday the start of a 5-year R&D partnership focussing on cyber security for maritime critical infrastructure. The partnership, which will create Canada’s Maritime Cyber Security Centre of Excellence, aims to develop and commercialize cyber security solutions for the maritime industry. 

As in all spheres of life, the acceleration of digitization, automation and hyperconnectivity in the maritime domain has created new challenges for transport, cargo and naval ships as well port installations. All have become new targets for cyber criminals.

Remotely taking control of a navigation system, deficient geolocalization of a ship, hacking of communications systems, computer viruses and ransomware are just some of the attacks that could affect electronic and computer systems used in the management of maritime and port operations.

As of January 1, 2021, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires shipowners and operators to integrate the management of cyber risks in their security practices at the next annual validation of their IMO certification. It is the first-ever regulatory framework for cyber security in the maritime industry.

At the heart of this unique partnership are two highly experienced researchers from Polytechnique Montréal, Professors Nora Cuppens and José M. Fernandez. Renowned for their research in the cyber security of critical infrastructure, cyber resilience and cyber defence, the professors are enthusiastic about this step forward in maritime cyber security research – a first in Québec. 

In the past six years, Prof. Cuppens has focused her research on critical infrastructure protection. Recently arrived from France, where she was an active member of two relevant research chairs: one on critical infrastructure cyber security and the other on cyber defence of naval systems. She joined Polytechnique Montréal to conduct research on the cyber resilience of essential systems and the definition of cyber security metrics to support better decision-making. 

Prof. Fernandez has for the past 12 years, conducted research on the cyber security of critical infrastructure in several domains including electrical networks, urban traffic control networks and aviation. Prof. Fernandez’s and Polytechnique’s overall expertise in risk evaluation and protection for cyber-physical systems in other types of critical infrastructure will be critical to the successful delivery of this project for the maritime industry.   

Neptune Cyber, a fast-growing Québec cyber security start-up, is the only Canadian company to date offering a full range of services exclusively conceived for the maritime domain. It assists the most important companies in the naval and maritime sectors in Canada and globally to face cyber threats.  Its expertise in maritime cyber security will allow the project team to identify the most dangerous cyber attacks, which will be simulated in the experimental “co-emulation” platform that will be developed within this partnership. The use of the co-emulation approach developed at Polytechnique will allow the project team to measure with precision the impact of cyber attacks, develop and test the efficacy of defensive counter-measures, and the security of on-board maritime information systems.

This multi-year contribution is being made through Davie’s Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) commitments to Canada. The Government of Canada’s ITB Policy requires that successful bidders on defence contracts reinvest 100 percent of the value of their contracts back into Canada’s economy. For the project, Neptune Cyber and Davie will contribute $1.7 million, of which $500,000 will be in cash and $1.2 million in support and equipment for the duration of this innovative project.

For the partners, the development of a community of interest in the world of maritime cyber security is essential to address future threats. The collaboration is set to grow with other partners in the maritime domain and in cyber security, researchers from university and collegial centres of technology transfer (CCTT), in addition to training centres for maritime personnel in Québec and worldwide. 

Thanks to this project, around 10 graduate students at the master’s and Ph.D. level will be trained to become the first wave of specialized experts in this emerging field. Through them, maritime cyber security best practices will be shared worldwide. They will also focus on areas that require standards and official certifications, as well as the provision of cyber security services and solutions to ensure the security of maritime operations globally.