Maritime cyber innovation wins at UK government’s cyber security event

A globally unique piece of software designed to identify the specific cyber threats facing ships, but with the ability to expand into ports and other sectors, has triumphed in a competition run by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The Maritime Cyber Risk Assessment (MaCRA) framework was developed by researchers from the University of Plymouth’s Maritime Cyber Threats Research Group.

It identifies the specific risks likely to be encountered by particular vessels on trade routes all over the world, enabling international shipping operators and insurers to rapidly assess individual ship’s or entire fleets’ cyber risk profiles.

The software was among entrants from across the UK in a Cyber Den competition run as part of the UK government’s flagship cyber security event, CYBERUK, on May 11 and 12, 2021.

Having won the overall prize, researchers will now receive assistance from the NCSC in assessing, developing and piloting their product or service. This may include consultancy on the technology and potentially working with a Government Department on further testing.

MaCRA was entered into the competition having previously graduated from the Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme (CyberASAP), delivered in partnership by KTN and Innovate UK and funded by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Dr Kimberly Tam, Lecturer in Cyber Security at the University of Plymouth and academic lead on the MaCRA project, said:

"We are thrilled with the opportunities our win in the Cyber Den will bring as we finesse MaCRA's adaptive maritime cyber risk assessment capabilities.
"We are also grateful to the CyberASAP team for equipping us and other great teams to deliver Dragons' Den-style pitches, and to the judges, especially for the most valuable aspect of our win: a year's mentoring with NCSC experts.”

Dr Kimberly Tam

Dr Kimberly Tam

The principles behind the MaCRA framework were first set out in a study published in the WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs in 2019.

The University was then awarded a grant from the Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) initiative to develop it as an industry-ready solution that ensures crucial cargo keeps reaching the UK’s shores.

MaCRA research informs the Cyber-MAR project, a €7million European Union-funded initiative also involving the University that is developing a maritime sector-specific cyber security simulation environment.

The cutting edge Cyber-SHIP Lab, supported by funding from Research England, has also begun providing MaCRA with real ships’ systems cyber vulnerabilities data.

Kevin Forshaw, Director of Industrial and Strategic Partnerships, added:

“I am delighted that the judges recognised the value of our unique approach, and the very pressing need to start taking action on maritime cyber risk. We very much look forward to the support from the NCSC as we continue to develop the software over the coming months.”

In announcing MaCRA as the competition’s winner during her closing speech at CyberUK, Lindy Cameron CB OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the National Cyber Security Centre, said:

“Securing this vital sector against cyber threats is a hugely important goal and one that NCSC is honoured to be a part of. The Cyber Den received 11 pitches made from people all over the country. It was a strong field presenting and an incredibly difficult choice from the panel.”

This is the second accolade the University has received from the NCSC in 2021, after its MSc Cyber Security programme was awarded provisional certification for the academic content of the programme and the expertise and facilities which students can access in the course of their studies.