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Pipeline Security Under Microscope, as Hackers Target U.S. Operators

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Pipeline operators are facing new scrutiny, following reports that hackers have been targeting their third-party communications systems.

5 Pipeline Operators Acknowledge Recent Cyberattacks

According to Bloomberg News, 7 operators, including Energy Transfer Partners LP and TransCanada Corp., reported this week that their third-party communications systems had been shut down.

At least 5 have confirmed that hackers had targeted their systems.

Hackers Could Remotely Trigger Pipeline Explosions, Fires and Spills

This isn’t the first time that cybercriminals have taken aim at the nation’s massive gas and oil pipeline network.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, reported two years ago that its firewall system was blocking 25,000 cyberattacks a day.

Intrusions involving pipeline communications systems were first reported by the Congressional Research Service in 2012.

While hackers haven’t yet targeted pipeline operational systems, the Service warned that such an attack could “disrupt pipeline service and cause spills, explosions, or fires — all from remote locations.”

Pipeline Operators Not Required to Report Cyberattacks

Surprisingly, pipeline operators are not required to report cyberattacks to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which oversees security for the nation’s 2.6 million-mile pipeline network.

Instead the agency relies on voluntary reporting.

“TSA will continue to work with the pipeline industry to assess any vulnerabilities associated with this incident,” an agency spokesperson told Bloomberg News. “TSA, in consultation with cyber experts, will make recommendations, as appropriate, to the pipeline industry to mitigate concerns.”

Would the Trump Administration Even Consider New Regulations to Address Pipeline Security?

While the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced it would use $96 million to create an office to address cyberthreats to the energy industry, critics assert that far more needs to be done.

“Our energy infrastructure is under attack,”’ Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said during a congressional hearing last month. “A year ago, I called for a comprehensive assessment of cyberattacks to our grid by Russians. We don’t need rhetoric at this point – we need action.”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether the Trump Administration would even consider new regulations to address pipeline security.

In fact, during the President’s first year in office, the U.S. Department of Transportation weakened or eliminated more than a dozen critical safety and regulatory protections, including many that were enacted to prevent pipeline explosions and accidents.

Pipeline Operators Slow to Address Cybersecurity Threats

Pipeline operators support voluntary reporting, and overall, they’ve been slow to address the hacking threat.

The industry believes cybersecurity “is important, but mañana is OK,” Edgard Capdevielle, CEO of the San Francisco-based cybersecurity firm, Nozomi Networks Inc., told Bloomberg News.

“Mañana is not OK.”

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