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I don’t need to stand up here and tell you about the importance of protecting your nation’s ports and other vital infrastructure from cyber attacks.  You know quite well about the threats facing your digital platforms…about the number of attacks your organization thwarts on a daily basis.     

What I would like to share is that you are not alone in this ongoing fight to defend against cyber threats like DoS attacks, spoofing, ransomware, and the latest development, AI-powered attacks.  This is a new wave of cyberthreats that use artificial intelligence to learn and adapt to a target’s vulnerabilities and defenses.  The United States, and pretty much every other country in the world, must constantly improve its cybersecurity capabilities to counter the ever-evolving weapons of cyber criminals and nefarious government actors.   

Take, for example, the cyber attack on DP World Australia back in November that shut down four major ports which handle 40 percent of goods flowing in and out of the country.  The hackers stole data and disrupted the movement of cargo, which cost millions of dollars per day until the hack was resolved.  This demonstrates that we are all vulnerable and must remain vigilant by continuously strengthening our cyber defenses.        

Last November at the Port of Long Beach, that’s near my hometown of Huntington Beach, California, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a national cybersecurity readiness campaign in response to the growing ransomware and other cyberattacks at critical infrastructure like seaports, airports, hospitals, energy grids and other vital sectors.    

Then on February 21, President Biden signed an executive order to increase security at the nation’s ports against cyber threats, establishing a standardized set of cybersecurity requirements designed to help protect this critical infrastructure that is increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely.  The executive order will also institute mandatory reporting of cyber incidents, including active cyber threats, endangering any vessel, harbor, port, or waterfront facility.  This latest move by the Biden Administration demonstrates the importance of ensuring America’s port networks and systems are secure.  

Most recently, in April, the United States released our United States International Cyberspace and Digital Policy Strategy.  One of the core pillars of this strategy is advancing responsible state behavior in cyberspace and countering threats to cyberspace and critical infrastructure by building coalitions and engaging partners.  That’s what we’re doing here today – working together to build our defensive capacity in our respective ports.  

Just like in India, Thailand, or here in Sri Lanka, the network of ports in the United States are vital to our economy and the global supply chain.  Nationwide, U.S. ports employ about 31 million people and contribute approximately 5.4 trillion dollars to our economy.  Back in 2022, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles acknowledged his cyber team stopped approximately 40 million attacks each month.  Two years later, I have to wonder how many attacks they now encounter on a monthly basis.  One can only imagine the devastating impact a cyberattack might have on one of your country’s ports.  That’s why the United States invests in developing the skills and capabilities of our partners across the Indo-Pacific to help protect your nation’s vital assets.  

I wish you all the best over the next three days and hope that you can take away some concrete tools, skills, and innovative ideas to aid in the defense of your ports and other critical infrastructure.  Thank you and good luck!  

Sources – us embassy in Sri Lanka

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