Feb 21, 2024 - Technology

Biden issues new mandates to protect ports from hackers

The Hapag-Lloyd Antwerpen Express container ship is unloaded at the GCT container terminal in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The Hapag-Lloyd Antwerpen Express container ship being in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo: Gary Hershorn via Getty Images.

President Biden will sign an executive order Wednesday aimed at toughening cybersecurity at U.S. shipping ports and elsewhere in the maritime sector.

Why it matters: Chinese government-linked hackers have already shown interest in targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including ports, as it prepares for a potential invasion of Taiwan.

  • A cyberattack on the maritime sector — including cargo ships and ports — could prompt major disruptions in the global supply chain.

Details: Biden's executive order will give the U.S. Coast Guard new powers to issue basic cybersecurity requirements for transportation vessels and ports, a group of U.S. officials told reporters during a briefing.

  • Port and ship operators will soon be required to report cyber incidents to the Coast Guard under the executive order.
  • The order will also give the Coast Guard the ability to move any vessels that present a "known or suspected cyber threat," Rear Adm. John Vann, commander of the Coast Guard Cyber Command, told reporters.

What they're saying: "This interconnected system within our transportation critical infrastructure is vital to national security and economic prosperity," Vann said.

  • "America's system of ports and waterways accounts for over $5.4 trillion of our nation's annual economic activity, and our ports serve as a gateway for over 90% of all overseas trade," he added.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard also plans to issue a maritime security directive establishing new cyber requirements specifically for China-owned and manufactured cranes based in the United States.

  • Vann declined to share what the specific requirements will be, noting that they are considered "sensitive security information."
  • However, Vann did say that Chinese manufactured ship-to-shore cranes make up nearly 80% of all cranes found at U.S. ports.
  • "By design, these cranes may be controlled, serviced and programmed from remote locations," he said.

The big picture: The maritime sector is a target for both nation-state hackers and cybercriminals, Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber at the White House, told reporters.

Between the lines: Many of Wednesday's announcements won't go into effect until after the Coast Guard receives public comments on how it will define and enforce new procedures.

Yes, but: Some of the Biden administration's most recent attempts to issue new cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructure have hit political pushback.

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