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National security: Biden to sign today executive order aimed at protecting US ports, countering chinese cyber threats. In Italy the problem continues to be underestimated, indeed...

Potential threats from ‘cyberattacks, espionage, and supply chain vulnerabilities’ due to Chinese cranes operating at US ports, said lawmakers. In Italy, however, public finance problems prevail over national security: last year the Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani proposed the sale of the ports to find resources for the Budget Law

by Nicola e Gabriele Iuvinale

The Biden administration is taking a number of new actions aimed at bolstering cybersecurity and fending off threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at ports across the United States, the White House has announced.

President Biden will issue an Executive Order on Feb. 21 that will bolster the security of the nation’s ports, alongside a series of additional actions that will “strengthen maritime cybersecurity, fortify our supply chains, and strengthen the United States industrial base,” officials said.

The executive order will grant the U.S. Coast Guard new powers to respond to malicious cyber activity in the nation’s ports and issue basic cybersecurity requirements for transportation vessels and ports ensuring they mitigate cyber conditions that may endanger the safety of a vessel, facility, or harbor.

Port and ship operators will also be required to report cyber incidents, including active incidents, to the Coast Guard under the executive order, and the Coast Guard will be granted authority to control the movement of vessels that present a “known or suspected cyber threat” to U.S. maritime infrastructure and launch inspections of those vessels.

Many of the announcements under the executive order will not go into effect until after the Coast Guard issues a proposed notice of rulemaking and receives public comments, according to officials.

In a phone call with reporters ahead of the announcement, Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said U.S. ports contribute to the employment of 31 million Americans, the network of ports, terminals, waterways, etc., support $5.4 trillion of the economy and serve as the main domestic point of entry for cargo entering the country.

Chinese Cranes Linked to Security Risks

“The continuity of their operations has a clear and direct impact on the success of our country, our economy, and our national security,” Ms. Neuberger said.

Washington has repeatedly raised concerns over the possibility of Chinese-manufactured cranes being secretly operated to disrupt the supply chain or used as a surveillance tool, particularly to monitor U.S. military shipments, as tensions between the CCP and Taiwan mount.

Last year, multiple lawmakers, including the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), fired off letters to the Homeland Security secretary highlighting the national security risks posed by the widespread use of Chinese cargo cranes at American ports.

The letters noted the potential risks include “cyberattacks, espionage, and supply chain vulnerabilities due to the shared software and interconnectivity among ZPMC cranes operating at our nation’s ports.”

Lawmakers also specifically pointed to cranes made by Chinese state-owned firm, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC).

At the time the letters were sent, however, Chinese officials said U.S. concerns about the cranes were “paranoia-driven” and “misleading to the American public.”

Funding for American Port Infrastructure

During the call with reporters ahead of the Feb. 21 White House announcement, Rear Admiral John Vann, commander of the Coast Guard Cyber Command, noted that Chinese-manufactured cranes make up nearly 80 percent of the cranes at U.S. ports, with roughly 200 Chinese-made cranes across the nation, including at regulated facilities.

The cranes, he said, could be designed to be controlled, serviced, and programmed from even remote locations; leaving them potentially vulnerable to exploitation.

On the heels of President Biden’s executive order, the Coast Guard is issuing a maritime security directive based on the “prevalence of PRC-manufactured cranes in the U.S. and threatened tolerance related to PRC interest in disrupting U.S. critical infrastructure,” Mr. Vann said, using to China’s official acronym PRC—the People’s Republic of China.

The directive will establish new cyber requirements on the owners and operators of Chinese-manufactured cranes based in the United States, according to Mr. Vann.

Along with the executive order, the Biden administration will also be investing more than $20 billion into U.S. port infrastructure over the next five years through the President’s investing in America agenda, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, according to the White House.

This will aid in bringing domestic onshore manufacturing capacity back to America to provide “safe, secure cranes” to U.S. ports, officials said.

“Most critical infrastructure owners and operators have a list of safety regulations they have to comply with and we want to ensure that there are similar requirements for cyber when a cyber attack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” Ms. Neuberger said.

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