While the pioneering efforts by the Port of Los Angeles establishing cyber security protections was cited by the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director, Eugene Seroka, says national cyber-security protocols are needed to protect all U.S. ports from cyber-attacks.

At the Port of Los Angeles Media Briefing on April 17th, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies, Anne Neuberger, said: ”I have to give you a shout out for the Cyber Resilience Center that you've set up at the Port of LA because that's a really great example of how government and the private sector can work together in the context of critical services, government sharing intelligence, sharing best practices, ensuring that the services that government makes available like free vulnerability assessments are being used by companies (and) by critical infrastructure. So remarkable work and we think that's really a best practice and thank you for establishing that Cyber Resilience Center.”

Seroka said that he has been lobbying for years to establish national protocols for ports and ensure a high level of cyber security: “I've been campaigning for that for years. We continue to be one of the few ports here nationwide that has a robust protocol for cyber resilience. I referenced … the work that we've done now 10 years with the Cybersecurity Operations Center and the partnership … since we co-partner with IBM on the Cyber Resilience Center … we're already stopping crime, but more needs to be done across the country. And again, this goes not only to ports, but (for) our crucial links within the supply chain, utilities, infrastructure projects nationwide.”

Anne Neuberger
Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies

Chinese Cranes

Neuberger was asked about the review of security threats posed by Chinese built ship to shore cranes at U.S. ports and replied the matter is under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard. There is now a move to build cranes in the United States, possibly in California: “The presence of Chinese cranes and the remote access … that could provide (a means) to disrupt the operations of a port during a crisis or a conflict … The Coast Guard is actually doing that investigation, so I'll refer you to them for the details of it. But I'll note one exciting part of this effort as well, which was bringing back manufacturing using the bipartisan infrastructure law that Congress passed under the President's initiative … to bring back manufacturing of cranes to the United States. A company called PACECO, … (is) looking at potential manufacturing in California.”

What Companies Can Do

Neuberger said that important priorities in combatting cyber-attacks are:

  • Encrypting data so that for example, “even if a hack happens and data is stolen, if it's encrypted, hackers can't use it to blackmail individuals or to press companies to pay them a ransom.”
  • Rapid patching of vulnerabilities: “During that base patch endpoint detections, you're monitoring …. a network and ensuring that if there is a breach, you can find it quickly before the attacker can have impact.” She said it was also important: “having a trained team security operations center for large networks.”
  • Ensuring that software is resilient and not vulnerable to attack:” this particular requirement came from lessons learned from the SolarWinds incident where I think we all learned about the complexity of building and releasing secure software.”

Solarwinds Attack

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the investigative arm of Congress: “The cybersecurity breach of SolarWinds’ software is one of the most widespread and sophisticated hacking campaigns ever conducted against the federal government and private sector … Beginning in September 2019, a campaign of cyberattacks, now identified to be perpetrated by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (hereafter referred to as the threat actor), breached the computing networks at SolarWinds—a Texas-based network management software company. The threat actor first conducted a “dry run,” injecting test code into SolarWinds’ network management and monitoring suite of products called Orion. Then, beginning in February 2020, the threat actor injected trojanized (hidden) code into a file that was later included in SolarWinds’ Orion software updates. SolarWinds released the software updates to its customers not realizing that the updates were compromised. The trojanized code had provided the threat actor with a “backdoor”—a program that can give an intruder remote access to an infected computer. According to cybersecurity researchers, the threat actor was then able to remotely exploit the networks and systems of SolarWinds’ customers who had downloaded the compromised software updates using a sophisticated computing infrastructure.

Since SolarWinds is widely used in the federal government to monitor network activity on federal systems, this incident allowed the threat actor to breach infected agency information systems. SolarWinds estimates that nearly 18,000 of its customers received a compromised software update. Of those, the threat actor targeted a smaller subset of high-value customers, including the federal government, to exploit for the primary purpose of espionage.”

Port Volumes Up In March

In other news, Seroka reported that the Port of Los Angeles processed 743, 417 twenty-foot unit containers (TEUs) in March ... That's a 19% improvement over last March and marks the eighth consecutive month of year-on-year growth ... Los Angeles processed 2.4 million TEUS in Q1, a 30% spike over 2023’s slow start. This is the third best opening in our port’s history. Like the previous two months March showed year over year improvements across all categories. Imports totaled 380,000 TEUs marking a 19% jump over this time last year. It's worth noting that the National Retail Federation's Global Port Tracker is now projecting an 11% increase in U.S. imports during the first half of 2024. That is an encouraging sign, and the news gets better on the export side. March saw our best month since January of 2020. We moved 145,000 outbound TEUs, which is a 47% increase over last year for American goods headed overseas. This marks the 10th straight month of year-on-year gains.”

Eugene Seroka, executive director at Port of Los Angeles

Meanwhile, next door, the Port of Long Beach reported that rising consumer confidence lifted trade moving through the Port of Long Beach in March, marking the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year cargo growth: “Dockworkers and terminal operators moved 654,082 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last month, an 8.3% increase from March 2023. Imports grew 8.4% to 302,521 TEUs and exports were down 21.3% to 105,099 TEUs. Empty containers moving through the Port jumped 28.9% to 246,464 TEUs. “Consumer demand remains strong and continues to drive cargo through this vital gateway for trans-Pacific trade,” said Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero. “We will continue to build the infrastructure that will allow us to grow our trade strategically and sustainably.”