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US Ports Testify on ‘Real Gaps’ in Cybersecurity

US Ports Testify on ‘Real Gaps’ in Cybersecurity


US port authorities have testified before the US Department of Homeland Security's oversight committee on funding gaps when it comes to protecting ports from terrorist and cyberattacks.

A House Committee on Homeland Security field hearing was held at the Port of Los Angeles harbour offices on October 30, 2017.

At the hearing, Los Angeles and Long Beach Port Executive Directors testified to the presence of security weaknesses in port cybersecurity and other areas.

Chair of the Homeland Secuirty Committee Michael McCaul mentioned the closure of the Port of Los Angeles during the recent “Petya” cyberattacks and said newly digitized ports are increasingly in the crosshairs of international hackers and rogue nation states.

To buoy cargo security, the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program, a private-public partnership, on October 23, 2017.

DHS's Secretary in addition will create a risk assessment model focussed on cybersecurity vulnerabilities and risks at US ports.

A bill currently making its way through congress, the reauthorization of the DHS, is also set to “create a mechanism for port operators to share cyber threat information and best practices.”

But the Executive Directors of Long Beach and Los Angeles ports say more could be done.

Read a related paper from Smiths Detection on how port authorities face presure from government, media and society to maintain consistent vigilance on cargo security.

Gene Saroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles said: “There are two areas where the federal government can assist our port police in maintaining the physical security of the port complex: Training and equipment.

“We ask for support in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) recapitalization projects to leverage technology and human efforts in the detection of weapons, contraband and highly dangerous narcotics as demonstrated by the opiate epidemic.

 “In 2015 the port established the nation’s first cyberscecuirty operations centre, where more than 20 million cyberattacks per month are thwarted right here at the Port of Los Angeles. That’s 7-8 attacks every second on our port complex.”

Saroka went on to call the June, 2017 Petya cyberattack a ‘call to action’, saying the government must move swiftly to mitigate cross-sector risks, which touch from maritime to transport and energy sectors.

As for perimeter security, recently James Llamas broke into Los Angeles Port before fatally falling off an STS crane, and Los Angeles port has since fortified gate security and changed cargo-entry paths.

Ray Familathe, Vice President of the ILWU, called the US Coast Guard’s Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) program a “costly failure” that posed hardships for workers.

He confirmed that no terrorist or cyber attacks had been thwarted by TWIC.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), of which the ports are members, has previously said US ports face shortages of staff belonging to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Such staff are needed, for example, for tasks like examining cargo for radiation.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget was deemed a threat to port security funding by some lawmakers attending the hearing.

Threatened cuts to port secuirty coincide with, but do not directly transfer funding to, a proposed US$1.6 billion Trump wants to use to begin building a wall on the US-Mexico border, potentially costing an eyewatering $12 billion on completion.

Two lawmakers raised the issue of the border wall and threw up the conflict between the Trump administration’s priorities for border security and immigration.

Representative for the district that includes LA Port, Nanette Barragan, said: “These are conflicting interests. We can’t put money toward the border wall without taking it away from something else.

“I believe that (the border wall) would be a waste of money, and we should put more priority into airport and seaport security.”

Read more: The AAPA has raised questions over a CBP staffing shortage during the nomination of Kevin McAleenan as CBP Commissioner.

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