• Colonial pipeline cyberattack a possible harbinger of future security breaches

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

A cyberattack on the Colonial pipeline, which runs from the US Gulf Coast up the East Coast towards Washington DC transporting refined products (with a capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day), has led to panic buying as a result of petrol shortage fears before being resolved. While some of the details surrounding the attack remain uncertain, what is known is in itself intriguing. Hackers – believed by President Joe Biden to be based in Russia – are said to have installed ransomware on computer systems associated with the pipeline, and demanded payment of a ransom before they would release control of the systems. Operators responded by shutting down the pipeline, which led the federal government to invoke emergency powers to allow transport of the refined products by road. Panic buying set in, raising fuel prices slightly to above US$3/gallon, the highest since 2014, with two out of three fuel stations in North Carolina reporting they were out of fuel.

The group believed to be behind the attack, known as DarkSide, released a statement that their operation was about making money, and not about causing disruption to society, which seemed to carry an air of contrition, especially as they said they would run checks on their members to avoid future consequences. Five days after the shutdown, the pipeline was back in operation, ending fears of a prolonged supply shortage, although Colonial warned that intermittent service interruptions might still be experienced. While the event in the end was more bark than bite, it will renew cybersecurity fears for US major infrastructure from a more serious or widespread attack.