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The economics of maritime cybersecurity: chokepoints & vulnerabilities in the Indo-Pacific

The fifth domain’s consequential dominance and spatial presence in the cyberspace convey perplexity in the safety and security of humanity. Its connectivity to the sixth domain values information that may wreck metaphysical truth about reality. It recreates the confluence of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) used to educate or miseducate people in the current post-truth era. In extreme cases, social media are employed as weapons of mass destruction to disrupt and destroy critical cyber infrastructure. While trends of ICT continue to invade and pervade human life and state’s security, deconstructing the matrix of two new fundamental elements of cyber and info domains create seamless usefulness that stem from four bold traditional realms of land, water, air, and space. Combining now the three powerful spheres of water, cyberspace and information―these can restructure the macroeconomics of maritime cybersecurity.

Visions of fourth industrial revolution wheeled in advance at the height of Covid-19 pandemic. This may be true as we saw ICT entrepreneur billionaires and creative influencers propelled the usage of digital technology and sophistication of e-commerce as essential economic stabilizer during the world’s public health insecurity. It enabled major powers to elevate scientific breakthroughs to fast-track discovery of vaccines trailed by the disturbance of global supply chain and distribution. Likewise, geopolitical reorder moving to multipolarity paved a distinct way for scheming behaviours of great powers to execute strategic prerogatives and veer away from maritime rules-based norms. The South China Sea power contestation and Ukraine-Russia war are perceived patterns of cold and hot wars exploding like remnants of vulnerabilities in various chokepoint regions of the world.

This leads to maritime power that connotes an inherent broader concept that revolves around naval tradition and sea routes supremacy. The dimensions of national security inducing the importance of economics, geopolitics, culture, maritime environment and military subscribe to the ability of nations to co-opt on sea power strategy. Such putative measurements can draw Blue Ocean engagements that are accurately stirred to redound to the state’s interest utilizing abilities to exploit marine resources aimed at capacitating gargantuan operations in the vast maritime domains.

Benchmarking on the strengths of nautical technological advancements among major and middle powers in the Indo-Pacific region resulted to aggressive funding and utility of cyber infrastructure and maritime cybersecurity that certainly reached the pinnacle of naval race within the dynamic region. Such building up of strength presumed armed forces in the Indo-Pacific to vastly alter longstanding doctrines and strategies to succeed in reaching dominance of maritime cybersecurity seen to be borderless and boundless. As naval competition rises up―it encompasses military calculations beyond the streams of maritime trade, overseas resource supply, marine resources, shipping and offshore economic interests, oil and gas explorations, sea lanes of communications, competitive sea ports and naval arsenals, maritime and territorial claims, and intensified maritime cybersecurity.

The calculation of intangible rudimentary abstracts support valuable elements to incorporate a nation-state’s grand strategy grasped on the tenacity of maritime culture, identity, power projection and mythology. For instance, the United States is still perceived as a maritime superpower considered for possessing heavily armed warships that can travel thousands of miles in a matter of days. American Navy’s superior lift capability can transport firepower, fuel, food and cargo to sustain combat operations through ship building capability. It has erudite sensors that can facilitate speed of application on charts automation, self-calibration, fault tolerance, high transmission and wireless capabilities. While it may be prone to cyber-attacks, these are mainly due to American maritime industry’s strong dependence on high technology and artificial intelligence expending computers, cloud storage, communications, ship systems monitoring and control, including the strategic use of cyber espionage.   

Meanwhile, China’s forceful naval modernization efforts has become the top focus of US defence planning and budgeting, reinstating the late Shinzo Abe’s geobiographic marine and strategic realms of Indo-Pacific, streamlining the iota of free and open waterways. Despite Beijng’s playful acts on grey zone strategy and anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force to deter American intervention, the US addresses the dispute in loud messaging by elevating the value of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS). More so, the US Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific by assigning its most capable new ships and aircrafts in the main theatre of power rivalry all over Asia and Oceania. 

Cognizant of technological advancements that are affecting the maritime world, the security landscape of the global region has shifted dramatically. The substantial technological advancement and hostile militarization of major powers like China are increasingly eroding the US military advantages. The proliferation of long-range precision missiles, unmanned aerial, underwater three vehicles, drones and maritime cyber facilities are substantially utilized to reinforce naval and coastal operations. Given the scenario, it cannot be assumed that the West has robust control of the unrestricted access operations to the world’s oceans during times of conflict in contemporary multiplex world order.

As China becomes more confident in spite of its lack of world war experience, the middle kingdom has already surpassed the US Navy in numbers of battle force ships courtesy of consistent naval modernization sweeping major transformations since 1990s. Its naval, aerial, terrestrial weapons and cyber capabilities are far more modern compared to most western navies. China’s capability of conducting conventional and nuclear precision strikes possibly strengthen a desire to develop hypersonic glide vehicles. Given Beijing’s successive naval development over many decades, its maritime strike aircrafts are still considered having low-observable posture and perform weak on undersea warfare, amphibious lift and aerial refuelling capabilities.

The fear that maritime cyber risks may prevail to which extent technology assets could be threatened is susceptible to deep ocean incidents like piracy, maritime terrorism, and undersea and surface espionage. Failure to secure big data systems would create havoc of destruction in the dotcom era. For instance, cyberterrorists on deck in marine vessels could apply information hiding by means of stenography, a strategy aimed to cripple surface and submarine cyber infrastructures. Pirates and cybercriminals could hack information, alter data, install malicious codes and sabotage operations in cargo and commercial ships. Malicious codes can be installed in the forms of Trojans, worms, and viruses widespread in deadly distributed denial of service (DdoS) attacks by employing ‘zombie’ machines under the control of a master server that have the ability to take down entire networks.

The ‘love bug’ virus introduced hacking in the Philippines while statistics shows that the emerging Asian economy has low quantity of cybersecurity professionals. Half of Filipino cybersecurity experts are pirated abroad that increases the chances of brain drain. Through the Cyber Management System Project (CMSP), increased information-sharing, cyber threat monitoring, and cyber infrastructure defence spending has pushed advocacies to attain a cyber-resilient Philippines. Although, Manila struggles to find its niche in the newly-founded Indo-Pacific region, the expansive democratization of tech talents seems elusive in the Philippines due to lack of employment opportunities and start-up businesses. In turn, the country’s maritime cybersecurity remains weak in spite of having vibrant marine transportation for goods and people.

As a whole, while the Philippine government manages majority of ports around the archipelago, private companies operate in small ports. Few sea ports are well-funded but other operators hold lesser capability to address any cyber-attack. As the Philippines continues to improve systematic resistance against cyber-attack on maritime domains, it should encourage the culture of immediate reporting and responding of possible attack. Data and information sharing to Interpol and the private sectors should be replicated as best practices. More so, there is French Navy’s desire to help Filipino sailors in the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard. Under the idea of a whole-of-alliance approach, it is intended to support the technological development of the Philippines’ maritime defence industry by streamlining the national cyber infrastructures, enhancing collaboration, and building partnerships in the external information operations. 

As there are high impacts on the mobility of maritime cybersecurity, the non-traditional security threat offers a plethora of game-changing inventions and innovations. To overcome maritime cybersecurity weaknesses, governments in the Indo-Pacific region should increase practitioners in cybersecurity. By keeping the firmware and software updated and supported by warrants, in the long run, it will reduce possibilities of cyber warfare. Economic safeguards on maritime cyberspaces should be compulsory to diminish the breeding ground for marine bots, trolls, felons, cyberthugs, and security breaches. With the expanding influence of the information superhighway in transnational maritime industry, governments must engage the military and civilians to be more critically cognizant of the effects of maritime cybersecurity.

Picture credits: Dryad Global /

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