Maritime Experts Gather to Define Cyber-Security Research Challenges

industrial port with containers

Summit Participants Develop Six Research Challenges for the US Coast Guard to Consider

By Dr. Joseph DiRenzo IIIAmerican Military University, and Dr. Fred S. Roberts, CCICADA at Rutgers University

industrial port with containers

Protecting US ports from cyber-security breaches is a major concern of the US Coast Guard, port operators and shipping companies.

In June 2015, the Maritime Cyber Research Summit (MCRS) was held at the Cal Maritime Safety and Security Center. This summit was an intensive focus session on maritime cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities.

This summit built upon key challenges presented in March by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) during the Maritime Cyber Security Symposium, which was jointly organized by CCICADA at Rutgers University (a DHS University Center of Excellence) and American Military University.

[Related Article: The Relevance of Maritime Cybersecurity]

Although the MCRS was initially envisioned to comprise a small group of interested subject matter experts, the response from the maritime community exceeded the expectations of event coordinators. High attendance at this event confirmed that there are considerable strategic concerns in the maritime community relative to operational cybersecurity issues.

[Related Article: Securing the Nation’s Ports against Cyberterrorism]

In a fortuitous combination of events, the USCG released its Cyber Strategy (PDF) one day prior to the event, which was made available to all MCRS participants. This document will guide the service’s efforts in the cyber domain for the next 10 years.

Experts Gather to Develop Research Questions

The summit’s purpose was to address the research challenges put forth by Vice Admiral Chuck Michel during the Maritime Cyber Security Symposium. The admiral challenged the assembled academics, industry, and federal, state, and local attendees to leverage their collective capability to help the USCG rigorously explore research areas and  identify research priorities.

Summit attendees were also asked to help develop rigorous research questions to be used in the development of the DHS S&T Office of University Programs Centers of Excellence 2016 work plans, and in particular those of the CCICADA Center at Rutgers University.

In addition, these research questions will be implemented by American Military University graduate students. The university has pledged to develop graduate-level independent study courses that focus on these selected areas resulting in a final written report based on students’ findings. These research questions will also be provided to the Dean of the Coast Guard Academy to leverage its capability as part of further exploration.

During the summit, participants fleshed out the six research challenges originally due to VADM Michel, identifying key priority topics and important research questions. The challenge areas are as follows:

  1. Vulnerabilities: What analysis could be employed to identify the greatest cyber vulnerabilities in the maritime domain/Maritime Transportation System (MTS), both shipboard and ashore?
  2. Resilience: Identify the best options for operational and systems cyber resilience. This research would include definition, operational, and legal considerations.
  3. Threats: What analysis framework and tools could be used to map and predict dynamic maritime cyber threats?
  4. Impacts: What framework should be employed for impact analysis for the MTS? What are the cascading consequences to the nation and economy of a cyber incident?
  5. Critical Points: What approach should be used to conduct nodal analysis to identify single points of failure for maritime cyber events within the MTS, including navigation systems?
  6. Info Sharing: How would a framework for network analysis be developed to support optimal information sharing with partners to address maritime cyber issues?

A report on the summit was delivered to VADM Michel on July 30. This will be followed by a briefing to USCG leadership at Coast Guard headquarters in October. That in turn will be followed by a more focused research meeting, organized by CCICADA Director Fred Roberts with colleagues from AMU and the University of Southern California, where experts will work on several key research problems being identified in follow-up to the summit held in June at Cal Maritime.

Editor’s note: This article, originally published on the American Military University website, has been posted on the CCICADA website with AMU permission.

About the Authors:

DiRenzoDr. Joe DiRenzo is a professor within the graduate intelligence program at American Military University. He is a retired Coast Guard officer, former Coast Guard Chief of Intelligence within the Caribbean and is currently the Coast Guard Chair at the Joint Forces Staff College.


RobertsFred S. Roberts is a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University and Director of the Command, Control, and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA), a University Center of Excellence of the Department of Homeland Security. Among his current homeland security research interests are stadium security, resource allocation (e.g., for Coast Guard boats and aircraft), container inspection at ports, sensor management for nuclear detection, early warning of disease outbreaks and bioterrorist events, border security, behavioral responses to natural and human-caused disasters, the connection between security and economic activity, and the homeland security aspects of global environmental change.


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