The Stack Archive

Cyber-attacks on U.S. ports risk chemical disaster

Mon 12 Oct 2015

Concerns have been raised with respect to the potential threat of cyber attacks at United States ports which could release dangerous chemicals.

The potential risk was raised by the Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich. Miller said that as a result of asserted security gaps left unfixed by the Department of Homeland Security, a cyber attack against an American port could have dangerous consequences.

In addition to concerns over effects on the economy, Miller argued that cargoes like liquefied natural gas could pose a distinct threat. The congresswoman explained the scenario in which a potential cyber breach could interfere with the industrial control monitor systems that monitor cargoes. As a result, such interference could cause the release of dangerous chemicals, which would badly affect populated areas.

Congresswoman Miller claimed that these concerns were reported over a year ago by the Government Accountability Office. She said that while some individual ports have taken cyber-risk assessments, the Coast Guard and the DHS have been comparatively slow to fully tackle the issue of cyber security.

Miller said: “The Coast Guard, and DHS as a whole, have been slow to fully engage on cyber security efforts at the nation’s 360 seaports…The Coast Guard has not yet conducted cyber risk assessments, though some individual ports have taken the initiative themselves.”

The potential risk was also spotlighted by the Government Accountability Office’s information security issues director, Gregory C. Wilshusen, who stressed the importance of halting cyber attacks and security breaches at ports.

“A major disruption in the maritime transportation system could have a significant impact on global shipping, international trade, and the global economy, as well as posing risks to public safety.”

Mr Wilshusen said that American ports handle over $1.3 trillion in cargo every year. Any major disruption in the maritime transportation system would thus not only badly affect global shipping and international trade, but also threaten public safety.

As ports make greater use of technology and computer systems for daily operations and management, there is a greater risk of outside parties hacking into the systems. A recent cyber attack on the Port of Antwerp in Belgium spotlighted this problem. In 2013, it was reported that a group of drug traffickers had hired hackers to hack into the computer systems that controlled the containers’ movements and locations.

Congresswoman Miller stressed that it is crucial that while physical security has been hardened, the same must apply for security procedures in the cyber world for ports.


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