Senators Introduce Bill to Shield U.S. Ports from Chinese Cyber Threats

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) introduced the Secure Smartports Act, a bill aimed at protecting American port infrastructure from cybersecurity threats posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This legislation targets risks associated with Chinese technology that could be used for espionage or potentially to take control of critical infrastructure and supply chains.

The bill mandates the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) to develop and implement a plan to safeguard companies and port systems against these threats.

“Every day we don’t understand the risks of relying on Chinese technology is a day when the Chinese Communist Party can compromise the ports and infrastructure we need to move essential goods throughout our Nation,” said Senator Casey. “This bill will ring the alarm on Chinese cyber threats and help protect our critical shipping infrastructure.”

Senator Kelly emphasized the importance of maritime trade to the U.S. economy. “With oceans on either side of us, America has always been an oceangoing country with an economy that’s fueled by trade,” he said. “This bill takes critical steps to protect our ports and maritime system from cyber vulnerabilities presented by Chinese government-backed technology that could threaten our economy and our security.”

The United States’ Marine Transportation System (MTS) includes an integrated network of ports, terminals, vessels, waterways, and land-side connections. These elements rely heavily on digital systems for operations, such as ship navigation, cargo movement, engineering, safety, and security monitoring. While these systems have revolutionized the speed and efficiency of maritime shipping and supply chains, their increasing interconnectedness has also introduced new vulnerabilities.

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If these vulnerabilities are exploited, the repercussions could cascade through America’s ports, disrupting the economy and impacting everyday Americans. The Secure Smartports Act directs the NCSC to alert the U.S. port and shipping industry to the risks associated with PRC-backed technology and software. The NCSC’s mission includes providing counterintelligence outreach to private sector entities at risk of foreign intelligence penetration. By working with ports and shipping companies, the NCSC aims to enhance understanding and mitigation of these risks.

Protecting U.S. Ports: The Secure Smartports Act in Action

This legislation is crucial for several reasons. First, it addresses the growing concern over cybersecurity threats from foreign entities, particularly those backed by the Chinese government. Protecting America’s ports is vital for ensuring the flow of goods and maintaining economic stability.

Second, the bill emphasizes proactive measures in protecting critical infrastructure. Identifying and addressing risks before they become active threats ensures the resilience and reliability of the nation’s maritime transportation system.

Moreover, this initiative highlights the broader context of U.S.-China relations. As both countries compete for technological and economic dominance, safeguarding infrastructure from espionage and cyber-attacks is increasingly important.

In summary, the Secure Smartports Act introduced by Senators Casey and Kelly represents a significant step toward protecting U.S. ports from cybersecurity threats posed by Chinese technology. By mandating the NCSC to develop and implement protective measures, the legislation aims to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure, support economic stability, and enhance national security. If passed, this bill could play a pivotal role in fortifying the United States against future cyber threats.

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