Biden plans to boost defenses against port cybersecurity threats

President Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Wednesday that will strengthen the government’s ability to respond to maritime cybersecurity threats, amid heightened concerns that China may seek to disrupt key infrastructure systems in the United States.

Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, previewed the executive order to reporters Tuesday night, saying it would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s powers.

She said the order would also allow the U.S. Coast Guard to outline rules to establish minimum cybersecurity requirements at ports across the United States, and that the government would invest $20 billion in port infrastructure as part of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure agenda. The order would give the Coast Guard the ability to control the movement of vessels that pose a threat and require ports and shoreside facilities to address known or suspected cyber threats.

The announcement of the initiative comes as US officials, including the FBI director, warn that Beijing may seek to launch a large-scale hacking operation aimed at destroying the United States’ power grid, oil pipelines and water systems in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. Officials said Tuesday that the initiative was not in response to any specific threat.

Ms. Neuberger said the executive order is a shift from a “requirement upon request” that the nation’s shipping ports, which support 31 million jobs and serve as major entry points for international cargo, assess all cybersecurity risks and report them to government agencies, including the FBI and the Agency for Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security.

But officials have not said how the new rules, which establish a baseline for safe cybersecurity operations, will be enforced at ports, or what will happen if companies violate them.

The executive order also addresses long-standing concerns by watchdogs that many Chinese-made ship cranes in US ports could be manipulated to disrupt US supply chain operations.

Rear Adm. John C. Vann of the Coast Guard told reporters that the agency is evaluating 200 cranes across the United States for cybersecurity vulnerabilities. He said about half of them have been assessed, but did not share what officials found.

“By design, these cranes can be controlled, serviced and programmed from remote locations,” he said, noting that those features potentially left China’s production cranes “vulnerable to exploitation.”

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