WASHINGTON (AP) — Under a Biden administration
directive issued in response to the ransomware
hack that disrupted gas supplies in several states this month, U.S. pipeline operators will be required to conduct a cybersecurity
assessment for the first time.
The Transportation Security Administration
directive, which was issued on Thursday, will also require pipeline owners and operators to report any cyber incidents to the federal government and to have a cybersecurity coordinator on hand at all times to work
with authorities in the event of an attack
similar to the one that shut down Colonial Pipeline
Pipeline companies, which have previously operated under voluntary guidelines, could face financial penalties starting at $7,000 per day if they fail to comply with a security directive reflecting an administration focus on cybersecurity that predates the May attack on Colonial, according to senior Department of Homeland Security officials.
“The evolution of ransomware attacks in the last 12-18 months has gotten to the point where it poses a national security risk, and we are concerned about the impact on national critical functions,” one of the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the regulation before its formal release.
Criminal syndicates, often based in Russia
or elsewhere in Eastern Europe, have unleashed a wave of ransomware attacks in which they scramble a target's data with encryption and demand a ransom. Victims have included state and local governments, hospitals and medical researchers, and businesses of all sizes, rendering some victims unable to perform even routine operations.
The Colonial Pipeline hack forced the company to shut down a system that delivers approximately 45% of the gasoline consumed on the East Coast
for about a week, causing panic buying and shortages at gas stations from Washington, D.C. to Florida
It was raised in Congress
on Wednesday, when DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
briefed the House
Appropriations Committee's homeland security subcommittee on the agency's budget for next year.
“The Colonial Pipeline breach, in particular, was a wake-up call to many Americans about how malicious cyber actors
, often backed by foreign states, can disrupt the United States economy
and all of our lives,” said the panel’s chair, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.
Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta
, later revealed that it paid a $4.4 million ransom to the gang of hackers
, who the FBI
linked to the DarkSide criminal syndicate.
The incident highlighted the dangers posed to the more than 2.7 million miles (4.4 million kilometers) of pipeline used to transport oil
, other liquids, and natural gas
throughout the United States.
The TSA is in charge of the network's physical security and cybersecurity, and it has collaborated with the network's owners and operators, a total of about 100 companies, to develop voluntary guidelines and conduct on-site assessments. Lawmakers and industry experts have criticized industry security standards.
DHS, led by Mayorkas, launched a "60-day sprint
" to focus the agency on the ransomware threat weeks before the Colonial Pipeline hack became public on May 7. The directive is intended to address issues that arose during the response that may have enabled the hack to occur in the first place.
Pipeline owners will be required to complete the assessment within 30 days, demonstrating how their processes align with the voluntary guidelines, identifying any gaps, and developing a plan to address them, according to officials.
For the first time, operators will be required to report any cybersecurity incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure
Security Agency, another DHS component. Companies have previously been hesitant to report breaches for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment and concern that they may expose themselves to legal liability.
Pipeline companies will also be required to appoint a cybersecurity coordinator who will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to collaborate with TSA and CISA in the event of a breach like the one at Colonial Pipeline.