US government wants to replace Chinese STS cranes in ports

2024/02/23 at 9:38 AM

The US government will spend 20 billion US dollars to increase cybersecurity at maritime container terminals. The Americans plan to gradually replace quay cranes manufactured by the Chinese company ZPMC. The Pentagon fears China could use the devices for espionage and could disrupt US ports ahead of an expected invasion of Taiwan.

Photo: Port Los Angeles

Over 200 ship-to-shore (STS) cranes manufactured by ZPMC run in American ports. The American security experts have been warning for several years that these devices could be used to spy on supply chains. Last March, the US Department of Security started investigating the possibility of cyber attacks using IT systems on Chinese-made overhead cranes. After conducting these proceedings, President Joe Biden signed on Wednesday, 21 February of the current year, the regulation that gives the US Coast Guard new powers to issue security guidelines for ships and port terminal operators. The Pentagon fears that Chinese hackers may block American port infrastructure in the preparation for an invasion of Taiwan.

Information disclosed by the Pentagon to the media shows that Americans are afraid that sensors and cameras installed on port cranes may provide the Chinese authorities with information about the deployment, equipment and logistics of US troops. The Coast Guard has already announced that port operators may receive the guidelines of the new Maritime Safety Directive. Of the 200 Chinese devices, 92 were identified as potentially threatening to US security.

Information from cameras and sensors

“By design, these cranes can be controlled, serviced and programmed from remote locations, and these features potentially make the STS cranes manufactured in the People’s Republic of China vulnerable to exploitation, compromising the maritime components of the national transportation system. As a result, additional measures are necessary to prevent safety incidents in the nation’s transportation system due to the prevalence of PRC-produced STS cranes in the US,” the US Coast Guard noted in a statement.

The concerns of the US authorities are confirmed by the technology giant Microsoft. According to the company, since mid-2021, American critical infrastructure on the island of Guam and elsewhere has been a target of China’s Volt Typhoon espionage operation. Microsoft experts discovered traces of “hidden and malicious activity” focused on access to credentials after security breaches and detection of network systems, directed against institutions dealing with critical infrastructure in the US.

Replacing devices

The Biden administration also wants to allocate 20 billion US dollars within five years to adapt port infrastructure to new security requirements. One of the activities will be the replacement of STS cranes in container terminals. These expenses will be covered by the US transport infrastructure modernisation programme adopted in 2021. New overhead cranes for US ports are to be manufactured on-site, and one of the potential suppliers of the equipment is the American branch of the Japanese concern Mitsui. If these plans are realised, the production of quay cranes will return to the USA after a 30-year break, Newsweek comments.

Representatives of the Chinese authorities did not comment on the US government’s decision. Previously, Chinese officials commented that American concerns about the cybersecurity of port facilities were “total paranoia”. Biden’s decision is supported by the Republican Party. Yesterday’s decree by the US President is part of a broader package of actions intended to increase the security of supply chains due to the increasingly widespread use of Internet of Things solutions in the logistics industry. The use of sensors and cameras improves the operation of transhipment terminals and allows real-time tracking of where the freight is located, many forwarders and traders have already used this. On the other hand, this data can potentially be used to spy on army movements.

More than 80% of the cranes operating in US ports are manufactured in China.

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