The White House Takes Action to Strengthen Maritime Port Security

In a move aimed at enhancing cybersecurity defenses in the maritime port sector, the White House issued an executive order on Wednesday. The order imposes new requirements for stronger cyberdefenses in ports and expands the authorities of the U.S. Coast Guard to respond to cybersecurity incidents.

The Biden administration stated that the executive order will compel the sector to improve its cybersecurity policies and empower the Coast Guard to take action against ports that do not enhance their security measures.

Additionally, the administration announced a $20 billion investment over the next five years to upgrade port infrastructure. As part of this initiative, Persico Corporation, a subsidiary of Japanese company Mitsui E&S, will manufacture ship-to-shore cranes with the intention of phasing out Chinese-built infrastructure. According to Anne Neuberger, the national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, the focus is on acquiring “trusted cranes” rather than a complete “rip and replace.”

The decision follows a recent warning about the China-linked hacking group known as Volt Typhoon, which FBI Director Christopher Wray revealed had infiltrated American critical infrastructure, including the maritime transportation system. Wray cautioned that the group posed a threat of causing harm to American citizens and communities in the event of conflict.

Chinese companies currently own nearly 80% of the cranes crucial to the operation of U.S. ports. These cranes are considered a security risk due to their ability to be operated remotely.

Rear Adm. Jay Vann, the top official at the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, highlighted the importance of American ports in the country’s economic activity, emphasizing that they facilitate over 90% of overseas trade and support 31 million jobs in the maritime transportation sector. Vann warned that any disruption to the maritime transportation system could have significant impacts on domestic and global supply chains.

The efforts to strengthen the cybersecurity of maritime systems have been ongoing for a year and a half and form part of a broader DHS initiative to safeguard the U.S. supply chain. Collaboration between Department of Homeland Security cyber officials and the Transportation Security Administration is ensuring that new cybersecurity requirements align with industry expectations.

The Coast Guard will implement more stringent cybersecurity requirements as part of a proposed rulemaking process drawn primarily from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s cybersecurity performance goals.

National security officials have long expressed concerns about the cybersecurity of ports. The recent executive order on port security comes amid renewed focus on protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats.


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