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U.S. Government and Ports Bracing for Cyberattacks As Hacks Heat Up

In a recent call, a top Biden Administration cybersecurity official pushed the country’s ports to encrypt their data amid recent threats.

The U.S. government further urged ports to quickly address vulnerabilities in critical systems and educate staff to protect against cyber attacks. Recently, hacks against major U.S. infrastructure escalated.

On the call, Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, referenced President Biden’s signing of an executive order in February to boost cybersecurity at U.S. ports. The port system is the primary point of entry for trade, employing 31 million people and contributing more than $5.4 trillion to the U.S. economy.

The Port of Los Angeles is leading the way in cyber security.

Gene Seroka, head of the Port of Los Angeles, was quick to point out that Los Angeles was the first U.S. port to establish a Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC) in 2014. Over 750 million attempted cyber breaches were attempted in 2023 alone, per Seroka.

The U.S. government has determined that many ports across the nation are vulnerable to cyber attacks and that the attacks can affect all aspects of port facilities, including command and control, navigation, logistics, and more.

A new executive order gives the U.S. Coast Guard the ability to respond to cyber attacks, which should help.

Another top concern: Chinese-made cranes.

Over 80 percent of cranes at U.S. ports were built in China and may have spyware or other unauthorized tracking technologies embedded. This was a major concern discussed on the cyber security call.

In general, cyberattack attempts on general U.S. infrastructure are increasing, according to the FBI. Whether water treatment facilities, transportation systems, the electric grid, or other areas of critical infrastructure, this is a major concern and problem.

The Port of Los Angeles SOC will mark its tenth anniversary in September.

The CSOC is presently monitoring the Port of Los Angeles’s own technological environment to prevent and identify cyber events, and the port was the first to receive the coveted ISO 27001 information security management accreditation in 2015. The Port of Los Angeles is gaining traction, with its first-quarter performance and March 2024 container activity revealed on Wednesday, revealing a 19% increase in container volumes and eight consecutive months of growth.

What has led to increased concerns about cyberattacks on ports?

Although there is no specific threat that has been announced against a specific port or port of entry, there is a pattern of increasingly blatant cyberattacks. This period really ramped up following the Hamas attack on October 7th when the war between Israel and Hamas began. With attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, it is an especially vulnerable time for the shipping industry and its security.

Additionally, Iran, who is behind funding for many of the Red Sea attacks, via the Yemen-based Houthis, was behind a 2023 attack against a water treatment facility in the state of Pennsylvania. The Biden Administration confirmed Iran’s involvement.


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