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FBI warns US pipeline industry of security threats to energy infrastructure

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) together with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has warned pipeline industry leaders of the physical and cyber threats to US energy infrastructure.

On 6 November, FBI Houston’s Special Agency in Charge (SAC) Perrye Turner welcomed representatives from the NCSC, the US Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Texan pipeline and oil and gas industry leaders to the classified briefing on national security threats to energy infrastructure, which took place in Houston, Texas.

“World-class energy companies have made Houston their home, so it makes perfect sense for FBI Houston to host this critical briefing between our federal partners and private energy partners,” said SAC Turner. “By sharing threat information with our regional private sector partners and raising industry awareness, we can better protect the technology and innovation that makes the Houston region a world leader in the energy field from disruptive cyberattacks and cyber espionage.”

Protecting pipelines

Recognising the challenges of protecting pipelines from security threats, DOE assistant secretary Karen Evans explained: “America’s oil and natural gas pipelines play an essential role in the economic security and energy independence of the nation. The Department of Energy will continue to work with our industry partners to share information and provide capability to better protect the United States.”

At the beginning of 2019, the Director of National Intelligence declared: “China has the ability to launch cyberattacks that cause localised, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure – such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks – in the United States.”

The assessment also highlighted US patented information and technology, particularly in the pipeline energy sector, as a target of foreign governments and companies looking to increase their scientific, military and economic advantages.

Just last year, in April 2018 in Houston, a cyberattack against a shared data network forced four US natural gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down their computer communications with customers.

Raising awareness

“The energy sector remains a key target of nation-state cyber intrusions, supply chain attacks, economic espionage efforts and other threats,” added William Evanina, director of the NCSC. “Through information exchanges like these, we’re working to raise awareness of the threats and partner with the industry to mitigate risks.”

TSA assistant administrator Sonya Proctor noted: “The unified approach to the sharing of classified information regarding threats to our pipeline infrastructure is key to ensuring our industry partners have an elevated awareness of the ongoing threats. This ensures industry leaders are more aware of the focus and outcomes of our TSA teams during physical and cybersecurity reviews on critical pipeline systems that we coordinate with our federal partners.”

The FBI works with both public and private sectors to provide counterintelligence tools and awareness training to help US energy companies increase their understanding of the threats.

“Both cyberattacks and the theft of proprietary pipeline technology threaten not only our region, but the entire US economy,” concluded SAC Turner. “Our energy sector security is fundamentally tied to our national security.”