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Major East Coast Pipeline Shuts Down After Cyberattack

Line carries 45% of fuel used on East Coast
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 8, 2021 12:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – A US energy company says a cyberattack forced it to halt 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, the AP reports. "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."

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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 five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, DC, 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. The precise nature of the attack was unclear, including who launched it and what the motives were. A Colonial Pipeline spokeswoman declined to say whether the company had received a ransom demand, as is common in attacks from cyber criminal syndicates. Brian Bethune, a professor at Boston College, said the shutdown "is an indication of how vulnerable our infrastructure is to these kinds of cyberattacks."

(Read more cyberattack stories.)

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