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Superyachts are being bugged

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Matt Horan, security director of C3IA Solutions

High net worth individuals are becoming increasingly concerned about being bugged on their superyachts, according to a leading expert.

Matt Horan, security director of C3IA Solutions, said his teams of ‘bug sweepers’ have been expanded to deal with the extra workload.

In recent months a number of huge, privately-owned vessels have been swept by the company’s Technical Surveillance Counter Measures (TSCM) teams.

Some owners have erroneously thought that being at sea gave them more security than their offices and homes.

C3IA Solutions’ TSCM teams have flown out to various places in the world to undertake examination of the vessels.

Mr Horan, whose company is based in Poole, Dorset, home to luxury motoryacht builder Sunseeker, said: “Certainly our own experience would indicate that owners are now more aware of the risks their superyachts face.

“The perception that being in a mobile environment, at sea, affords greater protection is a dangerous myth.

“With the regular changes of crews and the yachts being chartered to third parties, there are many more opportunities for bugs and devices to be planted.

“Often a client will become suspicious when something he has been said on board is repeated elsewhere.

“Clearly, one reason is that the conversation was being recorded. And with bugs so small and easily disguised or hidden, it requires a lot of sophisticated equipment to find them.

“The work is in no way glamorous; it requires the teams to often crawl around the vessels with their equipment looking for readings that indicate something needs exploring further.

“Some of these yachts costing many millions – or even billions – are much bigger than houses and the work can take weeks to complete.

“Our teams have swept yachts from 130ft to well over 300ft – usually after they have been chartered and returned to their owners.

“Those targeting these vessels with bugs could be doing it for a variety of reasons; business rivals seeking information, state operations gathering intelligence, right down to spouses looking for evidence of infidelity.

“We usually carry out a full audit of the yacht, its manifest and movements. We also research crew members and the suppliers. We’ll also conduct a vulnerability analysis on the yacht’s IT networks highlighting technical vulnerabilities and areas of security that need looking at.

“Our recent work in this area does suggest that owners have become far more concerned about their levels of cyber-security. Many at C3IA have military backgrounds and the high net worth individuals do look favourably on this.

“One reason high net worth individuals enjoy their yachts is that, because of modern communications, they can work wherever they are in the world.

“But these same communications also mean the computers on board are subject to the same threats as those on land, such as ransomware, phishing emails or hacking. So they need the same level of protection.

“Our methods are not just restricted to yachts and ships, but apply to any form of transport, including aeroplanes.”

C3IA Solutions was one of the first six companies certified by the government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

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