OK, let's say you’ve got some extra money and have wanted to upgrade your navigation electronics for some time. What makes the most sense, especially in terms of getting you home when everything goes to hell?

Captain Shields of the cod-fishing schooner Sophie Christenson "shoots" the sun during passage through the Bering Sea. File photo.I just about guarantee you it’s something you haven’t thought of. It doesn’t cost that much, though there’s a learning curve involved. Oh, and the marine electronics companies won’t like the choice. You best get yourself a sextant, especially if you are an offshore fisherman. I know, we are talking about an instrument developed in the late 17th century, with antecedents going back to the early Polynesian voyagers’ latitude hook, which, like the sextant, measures the distance between a celestial body and the horizon.

Why the sextant? Because navigation on today’s boats is GPS satellite driven and that can be compromised. That’s why the U.S. Navy has started teaching celestial navigation again to its officers, after dropping sextant skills training and celestial navigation in the 1900s. The Navy is preparing for a time when their ship’s navigation systems shut down.

In case of a cyber attack by a rogue group that hacks into GPS data links, knocks out GPS satellites, or simply jams the signals of a specific GPS satellite, a boat’s navigation systems will be compromised, but the sextant doesn’t have an operating system that can be compromised.

In non-marine settings that type of attack has already been done. Take the case of Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp that was hacked by Iranians (probably the government) in February 2015. It was a political attack designed to punish Adelson after he threatened Iran with a nuclear attack.

It’s been described as an IT catastrophe, shutting down the Sand’s casinos and gaining thousands of files and folders with names IT passwords and credit information. Damage was estimated at $40 million

Then Sony Pictures was hacked by North Korea after the studio released the movie The Interview, about an assassination plot against the country’s leader Kim Jong Un. The hackers got company secrets, the social security numbers of 47,000 employees and crippled the studio’s computer systems. The North Koreans said anyone attacking the supreme leader would be “mercilessly destroyed.”

Just in case someone or some country goes after the GPS satellite you are depending on, being able to navigate without a dependence on wheelhouse electronics just may prove valuable.

A collection of stories from guest authors.

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