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New Cyber Office Demonstrates Importance of Tackling Maritime Cyber Threat

New Cyber Office Demonstrates Importance of Tackling Maritime Cyber Threat
Lucien Marcerou, Jessie Hamill-Stewart (ed.) and Andrew Sallay (ed.) Sep 10, 2023

The US Navy recently established the Maritime Cyber Warfare Officer (MCWO), as directed by the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The MCWO designator puts an emphasis on cyber specialization among Navy officers and demonstrates the Navy's recognition of the evolving nature of warfare. Cybersecurity will play a large role in future operations and conflicts. This move also demonstrates how the wider maritime industry is taking cyber threats increasingly seriously, signifying a change in mindset.

In the past, cyberattacks have been overshadowed by kinetic warfare techniques. However, rapid advancement of technology and global reliance on interconnected systems has exposed cyber vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors. The creation of the MCWO designator reflects the evolving nature of warfare. As technology continues to progress, the cyber sphere increasingly becomes a battleground, with important implications for national security. Cyberattacks affect companies and individuals worldwide. By prioritizing cyber specialization, the Navy is proactively addressing emerging threats.

The designator aims to improve cyber expertise within the Navy. In the past, the Navy relied on officers from the information warfare community to handle cyber-related responsibilities. Instead, the Navy now provides officers with a clear career path to specialise in cyberspace operations, ensuring the development of a critical skill set. MCWOs are experts in both offensive and defensive cyberspace operations. This holistic approach acknowledges that cybersecurity combines defense mechanisms with actively engaging with adversaries.

The MCWO designator sets the stage for a more robust and integrated approach to maritime cybersecurity. Officers with dedicated expertise in cyber operations will enhance the navy's ability to protect its networks, systems, and critical infrastructure from cyber threats, partly by enabling more effective coordination with other military branches and nations in joint cyber operations. Similar coordination would benefit the maritime industry. It is becoming vital for operators to take a more integrated approach to cyber security, as cyber threats increasingly threaten vessels. One hacked vessel could impact the wider maritime industry, especially if it is intercepted on a key trade route.

The designator also signifies a shift in mindset regarding the seriousness of maritime cyber threats. This move demonstrates a commitment to cyber specialization and acknowledges the need for officers with dedicated expertise to counter evolving cyber challenges effectively. By developing a career path for cyber officers, the Navy is positioning itself to address current and future cyber threats, ensuring the protection of vital national interests in the face of an increasingly complex cyber landscape. This role represents a positive step in the direction of more systematically tackling cyber threats against the maritime industry.

Jessie Hamill-Stewart is a cybersecurity PhD student at University of Bristol and University of Bath.

Andrew Sallay is the CEO and co-founder of cybersecurity company Reperion.