WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. energy company says a cyberattack forced it to temporarily halt all operations on a major pipeline that delivers roughly 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.
Colonial Pipeline said the attack took place Friday and also affected some of its information technology systems. The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries primarily located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey.
The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies.
“Colonial Pipeline is taking steps to understand and resolve this issue,” the company said in a late Friday statement. “At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.”
Oil analyst Andy Lipow said the impact of the attack on fuel supplies and prices depends on how long the pipeline is down. An outage of one or two days would be minimal, he said, but an outage of five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, D.C., area.
Lipow said a key concern about a lengthy delay would be the supply of jet fuel needed to keep major airports operating, like those in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has shut its entire network, which supplies fuel from U.S refiners on the Gulf Coast to the eastern and southern United States, after a cyber attack that industry sources said was caused by ransomware software.
The company transports 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products through 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of pipelines, and transports 45% of East Coast fuel supply.
The malicious software used in the attack was ransomware, two cybersecurity industry sources familiar with the matter said. Ransomware is a type of malware that is designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access. The malware has grown in popularity over the last five years.
Colonial has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to launch an investigation and contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies. Colonial did not give further details or say for how long its pipelines would be shut.
It wasn’t clear if the attack was carried out by foreign government hackers or a criminal group.