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China could be spying on US ports using secret tech built into cranes

Mikhaila Friel   

China could be spying on US ports using secret tech built into cranes
  • Chinese cargo cranes in US ports were found to have potential spy equipment, according to a report.
  • The cranes were built by ZPMC, a Chinese manufacturer considered a security risk by the US.

Chinese cranes used at US ports were installed with communication equipment that could be used for espionage, according to a congressional investigation reported by The Wall Street Journal.

More than 12 cellular modems that could be used remotely were found in Chinese-made cranes, unnamed aides told The Journal.

Some of the cranes were built by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC), a state-owned Chinese manufacturer, which has been widely viewed in the US as posing a security risk.

Several of the modems were used for operational functions for the cranes, such as the ability to monitor and track maintenance remotely, the Journal reported.

However, some US ports using ZPMC-built cranes hadn't requested these functions, according to the investigators and documents obtained by the Journal.

One port told lawmakers in December that it knew of the modems' existence, but it didn't know what they were used for, the outlet said.

Tenessee politician Mark Green told the Journal that he believes China to be a major threat to US security.

Green, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has been investigating Chinese maritime security threats, said China "is looking for every opportunity to collect valuable intelligence and position themselves to exploit vulnerabilities by systematically burrowing into America's critical infrastructure, including in the maritime sector."

"The United States has clearly overlooked this threat for far too long," he added.

Concerns have been building for years

Just under 80% of ship-to-shore cranes used in US ports were made by ZPMC, the Journal reported.

There have been public concerns over Chinese-owned cranes since at least 2021, when intelligence-gathering equipment was discovered on a ship that was moving cranes into Baltimore, the Journal reported.

The Biden administration announced in February that $20 billion will be invested into replacing foreign-built cranes with US cranes over the next five years.

"By design, these cranes may be controlled, serviced, and programmed from remote locations. These features potentially leave PRC-manufactured cranes vulnerable to exploitation," Rear Admiral John C. Vann, head of the US Coast Guard's cyber command, told Newsweek in February.

A representative for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC. said in a statement that claims of Chinese-made cranes posing a security risk were "entirely paranoia" and that it was an abuse of "national power to obstruct normal economic and trade cooperation," the Journal reported.

In a statement issued to its website in March 2023, ZPMC said it "always strictly complies with the laws and regulations" of the countries it distributes to.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Port Authorities told the Journal that there had been no known security breaches involving Chinese cranes.

Representatives for ZPMC, the Chinese Embassy in the US, the US Government, and the US Port Authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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