U.S. Navy Investigating If Destroyer Crash Was Caused by Cyberattack


The military is examining whether compromised computer systems were responsible for one of two U.S. Navy destroyer collisions with merchant vessels that occurred in recent months, Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, said on Thursday.

Naval investigators are scrambling to determine the causes of the mishaps, including whether hackers infiltrated the computer systems of the USS John S. McCain ahead of the collision on Aug. 21, Tighe said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.  

Investigators are not, however, considering the possibility that the USS Fitzgerald collision, which took place on June 17, was the result of hacking.

“With the McCain incident happening so close to the Fitzgerald,” questions immediately arose about whether computer manipulation could have been the cause of the crash, Tighe said. The Navy has no indication that a cyberattack was behind either of the incidents, but is dispatching investigators to the McCain to put those questions to rest, she said.

Tighe said the Navy plans to use the results of the McCain probe to include a look at cybersecurity in future investigations.

The two collisions left a total of 17 sailors dead and the Navy humiliated. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson ordered a halt to operations after the second collision and called on the service to review safety protocols for its global fleet.

Early assessments of the two incidents have blamed crew training and growing demands on the Navy’s fleet of warships. Following the McCain collision in August, the Navy relieved the commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, citing a “loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The skipper of the Fitzgerald has also been dismissed, along with several of the ship’s officers, for losing situational awareness ahead of the June collision.

If hackers breached the McCain’s digital defenses, it would represent a startling development in naval warfare. American intelligence officials have theorized that hackers working on behalf of an enemy state could conceivably hack into a ship’s computer systems and blind its commander by, for example, displaying an inaccurate location of the ship on its charts.

Full article: U.S. Navy Investigating If Destroyer Crash Was Caused by Cyberattack (Foreign Policy)

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