The fundamentals of remote monitoring and security

It is a given that the element of security arises when considering how to set up remote connectivity. So, we have put together this article covering the fundamentals of remote monitoring and outlining the issues with security when using an open network.

Remote monitoring

Remote monitoring is becoming much more common in the marine industry, from leisure through to commercial. With various advances in marine electronics devices such as NMEA 2000 Wireless gateways, remote monitoring has been made much easier.

The widespread problem faced before wireless gateways was that of wanting to monitor the vessel’s data, but locations were limited to do this. Previously, it was necessary to find the nearest MFD and view the data there with the display that was hardwired into an NMEA 2000 network. Nowadays, with the addition of wireless gateways and advancements in the mobile phone/tablet industry, this can be done from almost anywhere.

Provided that the device has a stable connection available to the wireless gateway, the data can be received. A typical use case is a captain wanting to view the ship’s data on an onboard PC from their own quarters. This is now simple and easy to do, by connecting the PC to the Wi-Fi Gateway, it will receive all output data from the gateway in the defined format.

Local wireless is great, but what if we wanted to push it one step further and go for complete remote access from somewhere off the vessel? That is now achievable. Wireless gateways such as our own W2K-1 can join a pre-existing onboard network as a Client. This means that the W2K-1 will be assigned an IP address by the router, acting as another device just like a laptop or mobile phone that is connected.

Actisense W2K-1

The IP address can then be accessed remotely provided that the router/network has LTE, 4G or other forms of internet connectivity, enabling external connections. Of course, there are a number of complexities to add to this such as connecting two routers together using a Proxy or VPN, but these are not going to be covered here.

There are several pre-existing complete monitoring solutions available for a vessel, but these also usually carry a high price tag. The applications and methods you choose to use are mostly determined by what you want to monitor.

Security and passwords

Security is always going to be a major factor when considering how to set up remote connectivity, as in principle you are taking a previously offline system and bringing it online. By default, most wireless interfaces will now use WPA2 security as a minimum, with some utilizing WPA3 which is a much-improved revision. The security and passwords chosen are down to the user, but for a general piece of guidance, we suggest open network settings (non-password protected) are not used when working outside of a local area network (LAN).

Using a VPN or Proxy is highly recommended as it encrypts any data you send or receive, creating a secure ‘tunnel’ for data to be transferred.

Passwords should remain unique, and only be issued to those responsible for the vessel’s operation and maintenance. Avoid using easy-to-guess passwords such as names, places, and sequences of numbers.

In summary…

Remote monitoring is an emerging technology in the marine industry that boasts operational benefits and is becoming significantly easier to utilise due to advancements in technology. However, it can be challenging to maintain a secure network as it relies on a reliable connection which can be difficult on a moving vessel. As we have highlighted, there are several things you can do to keep your connections secure, from WPA2 security on wireless interfaces to maintaining secure pathways by using a VPN or Proxy.