Ransomware Attack on U.S. Gasoline

by Jan Frazier

NEW YORK, (Washington Insider Magazine) One of the largest refined product pipelines in America has shut down because of a ransomware attack. The Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J., is one of the major transporters of gasoline to the East Coast.

This ransomware attack shows that “core elements of our national infrastructure remain vulnerable to cyber attack.” The Colonial Pipeline is the major pipeline for the East Coast, delivering about 45 percent of the total for that area. It carries “gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from Texas to New York.”

Colonial Pipeline officials said late Friday that it had been “the victim of a cybersecurity attack.” They did not report who had launched the attack. Later Saturday, the company issued “an update saying it had determined that this incident involved ransomware.”

Although Washington, D.C., the police department had been targeted in a recent attack, this incident with the Colonial Pipeline comes after the police department attack. Colonial Pipeline officials commented, “We proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems.”

In order to investigate the attack fully – looking into “the nature and scope of this incident” – federal agencies, as well as law enforcement, have been contacted. 

According to the Colonial Pipeline’s website, the Georgia-based company “transports more than 100 million gallons, or 2.5 million barrels of fuel daily, including gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel, and fuels for the U.S. Military through its pipeline system.”

There have been growing concerns over the vulnerabilities in America’s infrastructure. Last year’s attack on the software company, SolarWinds, is just one of several incidents. NPR reports that a few U.S. government agencies have been targeted, including “the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.”

Mike Chapple, a computer science professor at Notre Dame, focused his attention on the SolarWinds attack. “The fact that this attack compromised systems that control pipeline infrastructures indicates that either the attack was extremely sophisticated, or the systems were not well secured.”

Chapple continued, “This pipeline shutdown sends the message that core elements of our national infrastructure continue to be vulnerable to cyber attack. Last year, Congress authorized the creation of a national cybersecurity director within the White House, but this position remains unfilled by the Biden administration.”

The Colonial Pipeline reports that it is “taking steps to understand and resolve this issue.”


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