House approves port cybersecurity bill

The House this week unanimously approved a bill to boost cybersecurity at U.S. ports.

The measure, dubbed the Strengthening Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Coordination in Our Ports Act of 2015, aims to make port cyber defenses a priority.

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It would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create voluntary cyber guidelines for ports that would increase the reporting of cyber threats and overall exchange of information. The agency would also help develop and implement a maritime cybersecurity risk model.

The noncontroversial measure moved rapidly by congressional standards.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in early November, just two days before the House Homeland Security Committee approved it. The full House approved the bill Wednesday.

“More than $1.3 trillion in cargo moves annually through our nation's 360 commercial ports,” Torres said. “With this much economic activity and the increased use of cyber technology to manage port operations ranging from communication and navigation to engineering, safety and cargo, it is critical to protect our maritime cyber infrastructure."

In October, the Homeland Security panel held a hearing about the lagging cyber defenses at U.S. ports. Experts told lawmakers the industry was ill prepared to fight hackers.

Torres said the hearing helped spur action on the bill.

“There appears to currently be little coordination between port landlords and tenants in addressing cyber threats, and federal agencies have only recently started to consider the impact that a cyber-attack could pose to our maritime infrastructure,” she said. “This legislation will ensure the necessary planning and coordination is in place to protect the ports that form the backbone of our nation's economy.”