U.S. to tell critical rail, air companies to report hacks, name cyber chiefs

By Christopher Bing

(Reuters) -The Transportation Security Administration will introduce new regulations that compel the most important U.S. 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” U.S. 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 U.S. pipeline operator, causing localized gas shortages along the U.S. 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.

Ransomware, a type of malware variant that encrypts a victimized 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 https://www.inquirer.com/transportation/septa-malware-attack-employees-riders-app-announcements-20200824.html 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.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; editing by Diane Craft)

Factbox: Countries make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory

(Reuters) – A sharp upturn in new coronavirus infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccination rates have pushed governments to make COVID-19 jabs mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups.

A growing number of countries also stipulate that a jab, or a negative test, will be needed for dining out, among others.

Here are some countries’ vaccine mandates:

AUSTRALIA

Australia decided in late June to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels.

It has also made vaccinations obligatory for Paralympic athletes heading to Tokyo because unvaccinated members on the team could pose a health risk.

BRITAIN

It will be mandatory for care home workers in England to have coronavirus vaccinations from October.

English nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September.

CANADA

Canadian Treasury Board Secretariat said on July 20 it was considering whether COVID-19 vaccines should be required for certain roles and positions in the federal government, according to CBC.

FRANCE

All health workers in France must get COVID-19 jabs and anyone wanting to get into a cinema or board a train will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test under new rules announced by President Emmanuel Macron on July 12.

The government said on July 19 that the planned 45,000 euro fine for businesses that do not check that clients have a health pass will be much lower, starting at up to 1,500 euros and increasing progressively for repeat offenders. Fines will not be imposed immediately.

GREECE

Greece on July 12 made vaccinations mandatory for nursing home staff with immediate effect and healthcare workers from September. As part of new measures, only vaccinated customers are allowed indoors in bars, cinemas, theatres and other closed spaces.

INDONESIA

Indonesia made COVID-19 inoculations mandatory in February, with capital Jakarta threatening fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($357) for refusing the vaccine.

ITALY

A decree approved by the Italian government in March mandates that health workers, including pharmacists, get vaccinated. Those who refuse could be suspended without pay for the rest of the year.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan will introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for people working in groups of more than 20, the health ministry said on June 23.

POLAND

Poland could make vaccinations obligatory for some people at high risk from COVID-19 from August.

RUSSIA

The Russian capital has unveiled a plan requiring 60% of all service sector workers to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 15, according to the Moscow Times.

Moscow residents no longer have to present a QR code demonstrating they have been vaccinated or have immunity in order to sit inside cafes, restaurants and bars from July 19.

SAUDI ARABIA

In May, Saudi Arabia mandated all public and private sector workers wishing to attend a workplace get vaccinated, without specifying when this would be implemented.

Vaccination will also be required to enter any governmental, private, or educational establishments and to use public transportation as of Aug. 1.

Saudi citizens will need two COVID-19 vaccine doses before they can travel outside the kingdom from Aug. 9, state news agency SPA reported on July 19, citing the ministry of interior.

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan’s healthcare ministry said on July 7 it was making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all residents aged 18 and over.

(Compiled by Paulina Cwikowska, Dagmarah Mackos and Oben Mumcuoglu; editing by Milla Nissi and Steve Orlofsky)