A cyberattack forced the shutdown of one of the largest pipelines in the United States, in what appeared to be a significant attempt to disrupt vulnerable energy infrastructure. The pipeline carries refined gasoline and jet fuel up the East Coast from Texas to New York.
The operator of the system, Colonial Pipeline, said in a statement late Friday that it had shut down its 5,500 miles of pipeline, which it says carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, in an effort to contain the breach on its computer networks. Earlier Friday, there were disruptions along the pipeline, but it was unclear whether that was a direct result of the attack, or the company’s moves to proactively halt it.
Colonial Pipeline has not indicated whether its systems were hit by ransomware, in which hackers hold a victim’s data hostage until it pays a ransom, or whether it was another form of cyberattack. But the shutdown of such a vital pipeline, one that has been serving the East Coast since the early 1960s, highlights the huge vulnerability of aging infrastructure that has been connected, directly or indirectly, to the internet.
In coming weeks the administration is expected to issue a broad-ranging executive order to bolster security of federal and private systems, after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught American intelligence agencies and companies by surprise.
Colonial’s pipeline transports 2.5 million barrels each day, taking refined gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from the Gulf Coast up to New York Harbor and New York’s major airports. Most of that goes into major storage tanks, and with energy use depressed by the pandemic, the attack was unlikely to cause any immediate disruptions.