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Major US pipeline shut down after ‘cyber security attack’



The main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia.

The largest fuel pipeline system in the United States was forced to shut down its entire network after a ransomware attack, the operating company said on Saturday.

The Colonial Pipeline Company ships gasoline and jet fuel from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the populous East Coast through 8,850 kilometers of pipeline, serving 50 million consumers.

It said it had been “the victim of a cyber security attack” which involved ransomware — attacks that encrypt computer systems and seek to extract payments from operators.

“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,” it said.

“A leading, third-party cyber security firm was engaged, and they have launched an investigation into the nature and scope of this incident, which is ongoing. We have contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies,” the statement continued.

Based in the southern state of Georgia, Colonial is the largest US pipeline operator by volume, transporting 2.5 million barrels of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products per day.

Its network serves major US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest by passenger traffic.

The attack prompted calls from cyber security experts for improved oversight of the industry.

“This attack is unusual for the US. But the bottom line is that attacks targeting operational technology — the industrial control systems on the production line or plant floor — are becoming more frequent,” said Algirde Pipikaite, cyber strategy lead at the World Economic Forum.

“Unless cyber security measures are embedded in a technology’s development phase, we are likely to see more frequent attacks on industrial systems like oil and gas pipelines.”

Eric Goldstein, an executive assistant director at the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said CISA was “engaged” with the company over the situation.

“This underscores the threat that ransomware poses to organizations regardless of size or sector,” he said.

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