World Witnesses America’s Achilles Heel in Gas Pipeline Cyberattack
The United States is arguably the greatest military power in the history of the world. It seems unlikely any country would be foolish enough to attack us with physical force.
Our enemies know this well. But they also realize they can do considerable damage to us in another way. One that might not even expose them as the perpetrators.
That way is through cyberattacks. These attacks are carried out against our infrastructure on a daily basis. And against our major companies. A vast majority of them are thwarted by our technology. But some are successful.
The most recent high-profile cyberattack against America occurred around May 7. The result was the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline. Panic buying and hoarding of gas in Eastern states led to significant shortages.
The U.S. may have some of the greatest technological minds in the world. But this cyberattack showed America is vulnerable. Let’s look at how serious this attack was.
The Colonial Pipeline is the largest oil products pipeline in the country. It runs for 5,500 miles. From the Gulf Coast all the way to the New York metropolitan area. States in the Southeast are particularly reliant on this pipeline.
It delivers approximately 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast. The pipeline transports 2.5 million barrels of petroleum per day. Including gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Plus home heating oil and fuel for our military.
The Colonial Pipeline has experienced temporary stoppages before. Due to hurricanes, earthquakes and explosions. This is the first time a cyberattack has caused such a major disruption.
In North Carolina, more than 70 percent of gas stations ran out of gas five days following the attack. The same occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. Virginia and South Carolina were also affected. Overall, more than 10,000 stations were unable to dispense gas.
Two issues caused stations to run out. One was panic buying. Many people who learned about the problem immediately filled their tanks. Demand exceeded supply.
The other was a major disruption in the supply chain. Not enough truck drivers were able to transport fuel from regional holding tanks to gas stations.
Susan Grissom is a chief industry analyst at American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. She said, “It takes time to regroup massive quantities of product. And efficiently make deliveries to more remote areas supplied by the Colonial.”
Public information about how this cyberattack occurred is limited. What we know for sure is that the cybercriminals belong to an online gang known as DarkSide.
They hit the pipeline with ransomware. It takes computerized systems hostage until a payment is made. Privately-held Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in cryptocurrencies to Eastern European hackers within hours of the attack. That’s according to Bloomberg News.
The hackers then provided the company with a decrypting tool. It was designed to restore the disabled computer network. The tool worked very slowly, however. So, the company continued using its own backups to speed up the recovery process.
The FBI’s statement regarding the incident was short. “We continue to work with the company and our government partners on the investigation.”
Also involved is the Energy Department. And the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
The Colonial Pipeline problem has now been resolved. Although it may be until the end of the month before everything returns to normal.
But could it happen again? Unfortunately, yes. Not only could it happen again, it’s very likely to occur again. Hackers capable of shutting down a pipeline must have been encouraged by the attack’s success.
Patrick De Haan is the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. He said the attack leaves the industry “vulnerable” to other sophisticated hackers. Another analyst referred to it as a “wake-up call” for the industry.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took it a step farther. He said it’s a “wake-up call” for cybersecurity in the U.S.
Of course, gasoline for vehicles is just one component of a pipeline shutdown. A lack of oil for heating could be devastating for a majority of Americans during winter.
What if the power went out during a gas shortage? Due to extreme weather or a different cyberattack. Those who use gas-powered generators would be out of luck.
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