The Transportation Security Administration will introduce regulations that compel the most important US railroad and airport operators to improve their cybersecurity procedures, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Wednesday.
The upcoming changes will make it mandatory for "higher-risk" rail transit companies and "critical" US airport and aircraft operators to do three things: name a chief cyber official, disclose hacks to the government and draft recovery plans for if an attack were to occur.
The planned regulations come after cybercriminals attacked a major US pipeline operator, causing localised gas shortages along the US East Coast in May. The incident led to new cybersecurity rules for pipeline owners in July.
"Whether by air, land, or sea, our transportation systems are of utmost strategic importance to our national and economic security," Mayorkas said. "The last year and a half has powerfully demonstrated what’s at stake."
A key concern motivating the new policies comes from a growth in ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure companies.
"It’s the first of its kind with respect to the cyber focus," said a senior homeland security official, who declined to be named, about the railway security directive and an update to aviation security programs.
Rafail Portnoy, Chief Technology Officer with the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it is "constantly vigilant against this global threat, and will ensure compliance with any TSA regulations".
The industry group Airlines for America said the issue is important to them and noted they already work closely with the TSA and other agencies on cyber security and noted they want to "reduce any potential duplicative reporting."
Ransomware, a type of malware variant that encrypts a victimised system until the owner pays a ransom in the form of cryptocurrency to the hacker, has become increasingly common in recent years.
"If transportation does not work, if people can’t go from A to B, then it can create pressure pretty quickly (to pay the ransom)," said the senior official.
The announcement also follows reports in June of a Chinese hacking group infiltrating New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and an August 2020 ransomware attack against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, causing a disruption to services.
The Homeland Security Department helped investigate the MTA incident alongside other federal agencies, including the FBI.
Last month, the TSA notified the private sector about the impending regulations, said the senior official, and the agency is currently receiving feedback.
The regulations will become active before the end of 2021.