Bloomberg discusses a recent spate of cyber attacks against specific critical infrastructure targets that effectively shut down a pipeline data system:
A cyber attack that hobbled the electronic communication system used by a major U.S. pipeline network has been overcome.
Energy Transfer Partners LP was confident that, after 6 p.m. New York time on Monday, files could safely be exchanged through the EDI platform provided by third-party Energy Services Group LLC, the pipeline company said in a notice. Earlier in the day, it reported a shutdown of the system because of an attack, while saying there was no effect on the flow of natural gas.
The EDI system conducts business through a computer-to-computer exchange of documents with customers. Though it’s not clear who was responsible for the attack, it comes after U.S. officials warned in March that Russian hackers are conducting a broad assault on the nation’s electric grid and other targets. Last month, Atlanta’s municipal government was hobbled for several days by a ransomware attack.
Energy Transfer, run by billionaire Kelcy Warren, isn’t the only pipeline company using EDI. Other operators with similar systems include Kinder Morgan Inc. and Tallgrass Energy Partners LP, according to their websites. Representatives for Kinder and Tallgrass said the companies’ systems weren’t affected.
It is important to note the distinction here: a communications network was attacked, not the actual gas pipeline operational network itself. Although light on details, it seems there was no actual method for the attackers to disrupt the pipeline, only inflicting damage to the communications infrastructure.
Expect more similar attacks to occur in the future. Causing outages on the communications networks could leads to operational issues. Often times the operators will bring down the operational networks to ensure personnel safety or avoid physical damage due to lack of adequate monitoring capabilities. There will likely be no direct damage.
In these situations the operational capabilities may end up as collateral damage, not the primary target.