NMEA Cyber Security

This week the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) have been holding their annual conference, in Orlando (FL), which brings together all of the major manufacturers, dealers and installers to see the latest equipment and developments in the world of marine electronics. A big part of the conference are a series of training programs, presentations and meetings where NMEA 0183, 2000 and the latest OneNet standards are discussed.

This year, a brand new subject is being discussed – Cyber Security. With so many vessels reliant upon their NMEA networks, for reliable and safe operation of the boat’s marine electronics, network security is becoming a real concern for boat builders and owners alike.

The “Internet of Things” (IOT) has brought some amazing services and features to the modern vessel, but it has also introduced potential weaknesses and security loop holes, that technically capable hackers can exploit. Until now, most of the attention has been on the automotive industry, but boats are just as vulnerable.

The latest OneNet standard was designed from the start with security in mind and should prove to be a very robust and protected network. On the other hand NMEA 2000 (developed during the late 1990s) and in particular NMEA 0183 (developed during the early 1980s) were designed well before the idea of hacking a vehicle was conceived and will need work to mitigate their continued use in these uncertain, modern times.

With this in mind, the NMEA Organization has established a NMEA Cyber Security working group who will study NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000, NMEA OneNet and the NMEA 0400 installation standard, to provide guidance and technical solutions to protect against the risks of maritime cyber attacks, such as those seen in the automotive industry.

At this year’s conference, a talk by the new Chairman of the Cyber Security working group, Dr Chris Quigley of Warwick Control Technologies, attracted a great deal of attention. His talk focused on the potential threats that exist and the challenges that face our industry, to ensure vessels are protected from cyber attacks. Particular attention was given to NMEA 2000, with a live demonstration of a real life hack that could force a GNSS receiver off the network.

Also part of Dr Quigley’s presentation, was the un-veiling of Digital Yacht’s brand new NET Protect product. Based on our popular NAVLink2 hardware, NET Protect is the World’s First NMEA 2000 Cyber Security product. Best described as a network “Intrusion Detection System”, NET Protect will give installers and boat owners an invaluable tool to protect their NMEA 2000 networks.

NET Protect with integral web interface on iPad


NMEA 2000 networks are now the most common networks on new vessels and are regularly being fitted to older vessels as part of re-fits or improvements. Nearly every marine electronics manufacturer has NMEA 2000 compatible products and there are hundreds of existing products in the market, some nearly 20 years old, with many different firmware versions. To make all of these products safe from cyber attacks, would be impossible, so the development of a stand alone, intrusion detection device is the most sensible method to safeguard NMEA 2000 networks.

Having an NMEA Certified product that sits on the NMEA 2000 network, listening to all of the devices and their PGNs, detecting suspect devices or unusual data activity is the first step in protecting your NMEA 2000 network and exactly what NET Protect is designed to achieve. With wireless interface and integral web interface, configuration and operation is easy.

Security protection starts at installation and NET Protect is also a perfect tool for an installer, to test and validate their NMEA 2000 network. Featuring a suite of tests and tools, NET Protect can be used as the final step of the commissioning process, to sign off the network as good. Then its CANshot function records the “network map” as it was on the day of commissioning. A copy of this map is stored in the NET Protect  for use in its real-time testing and can also be downloaded by the installer for their records.

Once “locked down” the new NMEA 2000 network is monitored 24/7 by NET Protect and a series of alarms, NMEA 2000 Alerts and SMS messages (requires Digital Yacht 4G/5G product) can be configured to alert the boat owner of any malicious activity or poor network performance.

NET Protect is designed to evolve as new threats are identified and can be easily updated (for free) via its integral web interface. Target retail price is $299 USD with stock availability from November 2023.


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