Hackers off the bow as superyachts become supertargets
The former British naval commando gazed out over the French harbour at the floating palace. The distant superyacht was clearly a target — but not in the conventional sense.
This was a business opportunity.
So Simon Rowland, once a member of the elite Special Boat Service, swam out and climbed aboard. He quickly made his way unchallenged to the bridge, where he confronted a surprised captain.
Rowland, who was holidaying with his family in the French Riviera, had recently set up a security group with a former Royal Marine, Neil Strang. His cheeky stunt led to a long chat with the skipper about the yacht's defences, and he was invited to return to complete a security review."As ex-Special Boat Service marines, we thought this was the perfect sector for us," says Strang.
"We were asked by the captain to look after the yacht owner's daughter during her birthday party. We got on so well with her and her friends that she introduced us to her parents — and we came back a week later to look after them during their vacation."
Their approach to security is all-embracing. As with many high-end security companies, the security team will check cars and locations and even organise the itinerary of the client.
"You have to understand the 'principal' and who they are, what makes them tick, their lifestyle."
Cybersecurity is also a major issue. Information sent from a yacht can be intercepted by hackers ashore.
"Yacht owners are waking up to the emerging cyber threat, what it means for them and their assets and how they might try and mitigate it," said William MacLachlan, a maritime lawyer.
This may include training crews on the risks and incorporating confidentiality clauses in employment agreements, setting out what a crew may or may not say about the yacht and who is on board. Increasingly such provisions include limits on the use of social media, which criminals could use to build up profiles of rich targets.
Ben Lind, a yacht underwriter for insurer AIG, said: "Our experience shows that extortion and ransomware-type attacks are the largest cause of cyber events."Superyachts are particularly vulnerable, whether that's loss of crew personal information, leaking of photos of guests or interception of communications."
Eric Rose, a director of security company Pinkerton's Global Risk Group, said: "If we have a client on a yacht who is concerned about someone trying to steal information, our folk create a geofence for those specific areas. The team would also sweep the vessel for listening devices."
Modern sea piracy grabbed the headlines 12 years ago when militiamen from the Somali civil war joined with local fishermen to take hostages and demand ransoms. More crew members were kidnapped at sea last year than any of the previous 10 years, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The bureau's piracy reporting centre recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery last year.
Pirates and armed robbers attacked 43 ships and captured 58 seafarers in the first quarter of this year, slightly more than the same period last year.
Oceans Beyond Piracy, a US-based nonprofit organisation, puts the cost of countering Somali piracy at $1.7-billion (about R22-billion) for 2016, although that is far less than the $7-billion spent in 2010.
Insurance companies have drawn a box around these high-risk areas.
"The number of yachts that go to the Indian Ocean has decreased because of the hijacks," said Strang.
"However, an Arab owner might want his vessel to return home from the Mediterranean. In such a scenario, we would certainly put armed protection on board."
— The Financial Times