Commerce and data are so interconnected now in our global, digital age that it doesn’t take much to upset the whole world’s supply chain. Russia revealed the world’s economic vulnerabilities and its own capabilities when it waged a cyberattack on Ukraine in 2017. As Andy Greenberg describes at Wired, sophisticated Russian malware named NotPetya spread from one Ukrainian software company’s servers to the many companies that used it, including pharmaceutical company Merck and Danish shipping conglomerate A.P. Møller-Maersk. Maersk manages 76 busy ports, from Spain to India, which make up a fifth of the world’s shipping capability. NotPetya disrupted 17 of those ports. Greenberg calls this under-reported global incident “the most devastating cyberattack since the invention of the internet.” So what does chaos look like in cyberwar? Take the shipping terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example:
At around 9 am New Jersey time, Fernández’s phone started buzzing with a succession of screaming calls from angry cargo owners. All of them had just heard from truck drivers that their vehicles were stuck outside Maersk’s Elizabeth terminal. “People were jumping up and down,” Fernández says. “They couldn’t get their containers in and out of the gate.”
That gate, a choke point to Maersk’s entire New Jersey terminal operation, was dead. The gate clerks had gone silent.
Soon, hundreds of 18-wheelers were backed up in a line that stretched for miles outside the terminal. One employee at another company’s nearby terminal at the same New Jersey port watched the trucks collect, bumper to bumper, farther than he could see. He’d seen gate systems go down for stretches of 15 minutes or half an hour before. But after a few hours, still with no word from Maersk, the Port Authority put out an alert that the company’s Elizabeth terminal would be closed for the rest of the day. “That’s when we started to realize,” the nearby terminal’s staffer remembers, “this was an attack.” Police began to approach drivers in their cabs, telling them to turn their massive loads around and clear out.