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Evolving Connectivity At Sea
Kirstie Williams, Regional Head of Development, GTMaritime


Standardization and secure maritime-optimized solutions needed

“Advances in digitalization and connectivity at sea – and the resultant explosion of vessel data – emphasize the need for standardisation, collaboration and secure maritime-optimized solutions,” said Kirstie Williams, Regional Head of Development, GTMaritime.


Advances in maritime digitalization and satellite connectivity have brought the maritime industry access to higher bandwidths than ever previously available, allowing shipping companies to replicate shoreside IT and software set-ups onboard their vessels. The results are being seen in more consistent processes and streamlined IT management.

This is providing shipowners with a great opportunity to invest in new and innovative vessel management techniques. However, ensuring that the chosen connectivity solution is fully optimized for ship operations requires attention to detail.

Many of the new solutions now available to shipping have been designed based on high bandwidth connections, while bandwidth on board is still typically much lower than in shore-based operations centers. This means caution is advisable to ensure that vessel infrastructure is not pushed toward or over its limits. Even with the increasing bandwidth available to owners, those using conventional office software tools on board, for example, need to remain mindful of potential knock-on effects for other daily ship operations.

In addition, much of the new connectivity has been made possible by the launch of new, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. While LEO constellations are widely regarded as the solution to shipping’s bandwidth concerns, further research is needed to determine LEO network cyber-security strength as well as levels of service and the back-up options available when data is fully consumed.

Calls For Data Standardization

What is clear is that the growing number of software tools and connectivity solutions on the market, and the resultant proliferation of data, amplify the need for the data standardization that is currently missing from the maritime industry.

Although individual software providers generally use consistent data structures, in many cases, these are incompatible with those offered by other providers.

With a lack of common software infrastructure, not all systems can be integrated and the same data is often transferred multiple times using different software tools. The industry should, therefore, look to establish standards for the storage and exchange of data — a need that is becoming ever-more apparent as the variety of connectivity options and data transfer solutions available to shipping companies increases.

One key to a solution will be the willingness to collaborate. Data sharing by shipowners is essential in order that software solutions evolve in ways that support the soaring volumes of data being produced as well as a reliable, efficient and seamless ship-to-shore data transfer infrastructure.

Ultimately, the industry requires software tools that are optimized for use at sea, ensuring routine business tasks, such as email and file sharing, have minimal impact on crew connectivity and other important bandwidth-dependent services. Such solutions should also offer reliability, security, compatibility with other systems and the flexibility to work on any connection.

In that same way, shipping’s operational needs are increasingly demanding seamless compatibility with different networks. GTMaritime’s market leading product — GTMailPlus — is a maritime-optimized, email service that facilitates integration with popular office software suites, thereby allowing ship- and shore-side personnel to use familiar tools while benefiting from stable, secure, bandwidth-efficient data transfers.

GTMailPlus is also compatible with any network type — whether LEO, GEO, Wi-Fi or LTE — to provide secure and efficient data transfers, regardless of the service or combination of services the shipowner uses.

With Greater Connectivity Comes Greater Risk

Another vital consideration for shipowners looking to mirror their IT set-ups, is cybersecurity. Although the enhancement of interconnectivity between vessels and shore-based operation centers is a largely positive development for the maritime industry, this does entail risk.

By unifying onboard and onshore software, shipping companies expose their vessels to the same cyber threats as they face on land. As the volume of data being transferred from ship to shore rises, so do the opportunities of cyber-attack.

In the past six months, GTMaritime’s solutions have provided protection against 1.7 million known viruses, prevented more than 90,000 malware attacks that were unknown to standard antivirus services, and blocked over 5.3 million spam messages.

Against this background, shipowners require software tools that are not only optimized for use at sea, but tools that provide protection of the data and endpoints to ensure vessels are fully protected — without impacting on business communications.

Reflecting GTMaritime’s holistic approach to vessel security, the company offers a range of end point protection solutions for vessels to provide scalable, intelligent, and strong protection without impacting productivity.

Provided in partnership with Crowdstrike, customers receive an end point detection and response (EDR) solution with AI based next generation anti- virus. This includes the ability to isolate single devices to protect the rest of the network, different levels of firewall protection, a security operations centre and threat hunting, along with access to support 24/7 in the event of an incident.

In addition, to address the increasingly pressing issue of vessel cyber security, GTMailPlus also features an enterprise-grade security suite as a standard, offering robust protection from threats that include zero-day attacks. This comprises applications for Anti-Phishing, Antivirus, Spam Management and Advanced Threat Protection.

As maritime connectivity evolves, shipboard software tools are more advanced and prevalent, and maritime data becomes more abundant. Care must be taken to ensure that shipping companies are equipped to seize the opportunities while mitigating for risk.

Standardization, collaboration and secure, maritime-optimized solutions will be integral to ensuring that the full benefit of digitalization is accessible to all industry stakeholders.