Two days after a hacking group forced the nation’s biggest gasoline pipeline to shut down, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo cautioned Sunday morning that cyberattacks against U.S. businesses and infrastructure are “here to stay” and becoming more frequent, joining a chorus of government officials urging Congress to help better prepare the private sector for future attacks.
“This is what businesses now have to worry about,” Raimondo said to CBS’ Face the Nation of the ransomware attack and data hack that led Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s top fuel pipeline operator, to shut down Friday.
Though she didn’t give a timeline for when the pipeline, which supplies roughly 45% of gas to the nation’s East Coast, would restart operations, Raimondo said President Joe Biden has been briefed on the attack and is working closely with the company and local officials to commence normal operations “as quickly as possible” and without supply disruptions.
“The implications for this, on our national security, cannot be overstated,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who sits on the chamber’s energy committee and represents one of the states affected by the attack, told NBC News’ Meet the Press on Sunday morning of the pipeline shutdown.
Cassidy also said there would be bipartisan support to provide businesses with authority over classified information and U.S. infrastructure with resources to withstand cyberattacks, saying: “I promise you: this is something that Republicans and Democrats can work together on.”
The Commerce Secretary didn’t respond to a question about whether the attack was expected to have disruptive economic effects, but Patrick DeHaan, the head of petroleum analysis at price-tracking website GasBuddy, says he doesn’t expect the shutdown will last long enough to make fuel pricing or supply an issue.
DeHaan said some Southeast states may experience price increases, but only if the shutdown lasts more than 5 days; when the pipeline shut down for more than 10 days in 2016, gas prices rose by as much as 30 cents per gallon in some states.
Colonial Pipeline learned Friday that it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack and took its systems offline “to contain the threat,” the company said in a Saturday statement. Part of an online hacking group called DarkSide, the hackers took nearly 100 gigabytes of data from Colonial Pipeline on Thursday and then locked the company’s computers before demanding payment to prevent a data leak, Bloomberg reported Saturday, saying it’s unclear how much money the group demanded and whether Colonial has paid. Former senior White House policy adviser Bob McNally called the attack the “biggest energy disruption” since drones (believed to have been sent by Iran) attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities in 2019—causing oil prices to briefly spike nearly 20%. As of press time, Colonial hasn’t returned a Forbes request for comment.
“Unfortunately, these sorts of attacks are becoming more frequent. They’re here to stay, and we have to work in partnership with business to secure networks to defend ourselves against these attacks,” Raimondo said Sunday. “As it relates to Colonial, the President was briefed yesterday, and it’s an all hands on deck effort right now.”
Raimondo and Cassidy join a growing chorus of government officials warning that cyberattacks are now among the biggest threats to U.S. national security. In a televised interview last month, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank is concerned that cyberattacks could trigger a market collapse similar in magnitude to the Great Recession if financial institutions’ ability to track payments are compromised—a risk the International Monetary Fund estimates may cost banks about $100 billion annually. Meanwhile, Biden’s national security team has reportedly made an effort to deter such attacks its top priority following reports in March that vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange were being used to potentially compromise “U.S. think tanks and defense industrial base entities.”
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