Skip to main content

ALERT: KPBS 89.5FM is undergoing scheduled upgrade work which may result in a temporary signal outage. Click here to listen on our radio stream.

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Cybersecurity Attack Shuts Down A Top U.S. Gasoline Pipeline

Photo caption:

Photo by Mark Lennihan AP

Traffic on I-95 passes oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Co. in Linden, N.J. An cybersecurity attack has shut down Colonial Pipeline, a major transporter of gasoline along the East Coast.

A cybersecurity attack has shut down one of the largest refined products pipelines in the United States, and a security analyst said it shows that "core elements of our national infrastructure" remain vulnerable to cyberattack.

The attack hit Colonial Pipeline, which carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New York and moves about 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

In a statement late Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it was "the victim of a cybersecurity attack" though the company didn't say who launched the attack or what the motives were.

"In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems," the company said.

Colonial Pipeline said it contacted federal agencies and law enforcement, as well as enlisting a third-party cybersecurity firm to help with an investigation "into the nature and scope of this incident."

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, according to the company's website.

The pipeline shutdown comes amid growing concerns over vulnerabilities in the country's infrastructure after several recent cyberattacks, including last year's attack at the software company SolarWinds that hit several U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as reported by NPR.

The Biden administration responded to the SolarWinds attack by issuing an executive order to help the country better protect itself against cybersecurity attacks.

"The fact that this attack compromised systems that control pipeline infrastructure indicates that either the attack was extremely sophisticated or the systems were not well secured," said Mike Chapple, a computer science professor at Notre Dame.

"This pipeline shutdown sends the message that core elements of our national infrastructure continue to be vulnerable to cyberattack," he said.

Chapple notes that securing infrastructure involves different federal agencies and requires centralized leadership. "Last year, Congress authorized the creation of a national cybersecurity director within the White House, but this position remains unfilled by the Biden administration," he said.

Colonial Pipeline said it is "taking steps to understand and resolve this issue. At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.