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Cyber defences as important as missile ones, says former U.S. general

The EC proposed earlier this month an action plan to bolster cyber defence. General Ben Hodges, who commanded the U.S. Army forces in Europe from 2014 until 2017, told Reuters that cyber protection is just as important as missile defence systems.

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Referring to the German ports of Bremerhaven or Hamburg, he said that potential cyberattack on any of them would severely impede NATO efforts to send military reinforcements to allies.

Bremerhaven and Hamburg are actually the most important seaports on which the alliance depends, for the military equipment, not just commercial cargo,” Gen. Hodges said.

He recalled a 2017 cyberattack, dubbed NotPetya and attributed to Russia, that first targeted Ukraine but spread rapidly through corporate networks of multinationals with operations or suppliers in eastern Europe. The Danish shipping giant Maersk said the attack caused outages at its computer systems across the world, so the company lost track of its freight.

“That was when I realised how vulnerable we are,” the general said. “If we cannot use Bremerhaven, it will be very difficult for the United States to reinforce and to fulfil its part of operation plans.”

In this context, he said, Berlin’s decision to allow Chinese group COSCO Shipping Holdings Co. Ltd to buy a stake in a terminal in Hamburg, the country’s largest port, caused “a lot of anxiety… because once they are there, they are inside the ecosystem of the harbour.”

The general said the ports would be essential for bringing in allies, ‘and so knowing that the Chinese may be able to influence or disrupt activities at critical transportation infrastructure, that Is a problem.”

The defence ministry in Berlin declined to comment on Mr Hodges’ security concerns. Hamburg port operator HHLA said it constantly examines software, guidelines and methods to identify and eliminate weaknesses as quickly as possible.

At the same time, the Chinese foreign ministry said cooperation between China and Germany is a matter for the two countries and third-parties “have no right to meddle and intervene.”

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