Chinese cranes at shipping ports on throughout US tied to possible spying by Beijing, could impact supply chain

Chinese cranes in Oakland by is licensed under YouTube

OAKLAND, CA- Nearly three years after US officials were warned about the risk Chinese-made electric transformers played to the country’s electric grid, we are now learning about security risks inherent in ship-to-shore cranes supplied by China in the Port of Oakland in California. 

The electrical transformers were flagged as a security risk, with some experts alleging that the transformers enabled the Chinese to hack our electric grid. A database showed that some 166 transformers had been dispersed nationwide across the US. 

In March 2021, three giant cranes were delivered to the Port of Oakland, with proponents of the deal claiming they were the “largest” ship-to-shore cranes in North America that would “increase speed and efficiency,” KTVU reports. 

The cranes were manufactured by ZPMC or Shanghai’s Zhenhua Heavy Industries, linked to the Chinese Communist government. The Biden administration is now warning that the ZPMC cranes may pose a cybersecurity risk. 

On February 21, the White House issued an Executive Order on Port Security, announcing the administration was taking steps to ensure the country’s ports and supply chain. 

“This action is a vital step to securing our maritime infrastructure’s digital ecosystem and addresses several vulnerabilities that have been identified in the updated US Maritime Advisory, 2024-00X–Worldwide Foreign Adversarial Technological, Physical, and Cyber Influence, that was released today (21 February).” 

Among actions proposed by the administration are:

“A $20 billion investment in U.S. crane production in partnership with PACECO Corp., a subsidiary of Mitsui E & S Col, Ltd. of Japan, that is based in the U.S. 

“Requiring crane operators to address Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) system vulnerabilities

“Mandatory reporting of maritime cyber incidents/threats

Herbert Lin, a Stanford fellow with expertise in cybersecurity and national security, says there is concern that China could embed malicious code or spyware in the cranes’ operating software, which he claims would be nearly impossible to detect. Such an intrusion could have a detrimental effect on supply chains or be used to gather data. 

“You need to have confidence in the manufacturer, and fundamentally, we don’t have confidence in the Chinese manufacturers to do the right thing,” Lin said. 

“They’re now computer-controlled,” Lin continued. “The concern, of course, is who is going to provide the programming for all those computers. Obviously, it’s the manufacturers, and the manufacturers are Chinese.” 

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee praised the executive order, calling it “the right move by the administration.” They also highlighted the fact that “ZPMC currently accounts for nearly 80% of the ship-to-shore cranes at US maritime ports.” 

Republicans also announced that “the FBI has reportedly discovered intelligence collection devices on ZPMC cranes at the Port of Baltimore,’ as reported in the Wall Street Journal. 

Other ports, primarily on the west coast, are looking at the risks the cranes pose. The Port of Seattle and Tacoma is developing plans to address potential cyber spying. 

Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles head doesn’t know how the Chinese might use any collected data and noted that finding other crane manufacturers is challenging. 

Lin highlighted the importance of consumers recognizing why our economy is so entwined with China, which is vital in weighing the risks posed by cyber intrusion and trying to find other manufacturing options outside the United States. 

“It’s all, in the end, a question of cost. The reason we go to China is they offer the best performance for the lowest price,” Lin said. 

China responded to the administration’s claims of spying as “pure conjecture,” according to Container News. 

Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., responded, saying: 

“The claim that Chinese-made cranes pose a national security risk to the US is pure conjecture, and China firmly opposes the US government’s generalization of the concept of national security and the abuse of state power to obstruct normal economic and trade cooperation between China and the US.” 

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The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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