Jul 23, 2021 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Kaieteur News – An investigation led by two major federal agencies in the United States of America (USA), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has found that 13 American gas pipelines suffered several attacks during a 12-year period by Chinese state-sponsored actors.
As a result of the foregoing findings, the US Administration has moved to strengthen its cyber-security regulations, which previously offered a light veil of protection. In an advisory published this week, CISA and the FBI were keen to note, that they have provided incident response and remediation support to a number of victims of this form of cyber-security breaches.
Overall, both agencies said the U.S. Government identified and tracked 23 US Natural gas pipeline operators whose computerised systems were targeted from 2011 to 2013 in a spear phishing and intrusion campaign. Of the known targeted entities, 13 were confirmed compromises, three were near misses, and seven had an unknown depth of intrusion.
CISA and the FBI believe that these actors were specifically targeting U.S. pipeline infrastructure for the purpose of holding US pipeline infrastructure at risk. Additionally, CISA and the FBI assessed that this activity was ultimately intended to help China develop cyber-attack capabilities against US pipelines to physically damage pipelines or disrupt pipeline operations.
Additionally, both agencies urged owners and operators of the energy sector and other critical infrastructure (CI) networks to adopt a heightened state of awareness, and implement the recommendations they provided which include, implementing network segmentation between IT and industrial control system (ICS)/operational technology (OT) networks. “These mitigations will improve a CI entity’s defensive cyber posture and functional resilience by reducing the risk of compromise or severe operational degradation if the system is compromised by malicious cyber actors, including, but not limited, to actors associated with the campaign,” CISA stated.
While China has denied accusations that actors linked to its government were behind the “malicious cyber activities,” the US has since stepped up to the plate to strengthen its cyber-security regulations. This week in fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled new pipeline cyber security rules alongside a rare warning about the decade-old hacking threat.
In a report by the Energy Wire, it was noted that DHS separately issued a security directive this week requiring pipeline companies to set baseline defenses amid a recent uptick in ransomware attacks, which lock up victims’ computer networks and demand payment for the key.
“The lives and livelihoods of the American people depend on our collective ability to protect our Nation’s critical infrastructure from evolving threats,” said Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. “Through this Security Directive, DHS can better ensure the pipeline sector takes the steps necessary to safeguard their operations from rising cyber threats, and better protect our national and economic security.”
But this sudden move to strengthen the cyber-security systems for pipelines only came after an attack in May by a Russian criminal group that forced Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Company to halt nearly half U.S. gasoline deliveries to the East Coast for nearly a week. This spurred panic buying at gas stations and price spikes that lingered into June.
Energy Wire noted that top intelligence officials and some pipeline executives had warned prior to the attack that given the cyber-security weaknesses for such infrastructure, a successful attack could cause weeks of disruptions and ripples across the energy sector. That advice is now being heeded.
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