WASHINGTON — A series of cyber attacks has been targeting US natural gas pipeline operators, officials acknowledged Tuesday, raising concerns among security experts about vulnerabilities in key infrastructure.
The Department of Homeland Security “has been working since March 2012 with critical infrastructure owners and operators in the oil and natural gas sector to address a series of cyber intrusions targeting natural gas pipeline companies,” DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said in an email to AFP.
He said the attack “involves sophisticated spear-phishing activities targeting personnel within the private companies” and added that the FBI and other federal agencies are assisting in the probe.
Spear-phishing is a technique used to target a specific company or organization by sending fake emails designed to get employees to divulge passwords or other security information.
DHS confirmed a report in the Christian Science Monitor, which first reported confidential alerts had been made to US energy firms.
A public alert released by an arm of DHS said the activity may date back to December 2011.
The alert from Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), an arm of DHS, said the e-mails “have been convincingly crafted to appear as though they were sent from a trusted member internal to the organization.”
Interstate Natural Gas Association of America spokeswoman Cathy Landry told AFP that its member firms had been in contact with investigators.
“We have received some bulletins,” she said.
“We know the nature of the threat but we don’t know the intent of the threat… we have been getting the word out to everyone in the industry, we want to make sure everyone knows this threat is out there.”
Joe Weiss, managing partner for the security firm Applied Control Solutions, said the latest attacks highlight the vulnerability of so-called critical infrastructure systems.
He said control systems vulnerabilities can be found in the electrical grid, water utilities and others as well as pipeline operators.
“Once you get to those systems, really bad things happen,” he said. “That’s where people die.”
But tracking the attacks can be difficult because of a lack of forensics, Weiss said.
“You have your usual list of suspects, nation-states like Iran, radical Muslims, a bunch of radical organizations in the states who don’t like anyone they feel is not environmentally friendly,” he told AFP
“But you also now have cyber exploit code on the Web for free that any number of people can get to.”
Weiss said the motivation was unclear, because the attackers may be unhappy with the companies, may be targeting the infrastructure or may simply be hacking to show it can be done.
He maintained that security is often looser in the field operations than in corporate websites, because most firms do not expect those operations to be accessed by outsiders.
“We don’t know if (the target) is the pipelines themselves or the pipeline companies,” he said.
Kapil Raina of the security firm Zscaler said the biggest fear “would be a coordinated attack on several facilities that would trigger automatic responses at other facilities, potentially causing a chained effect — similar to an electrical blackout but with more severe consequences.”
Because natural gas prices are low, he said, “the attack could have other affects including driving up the price of natural gas dramatically and creating financial market turmoil.”
The news of the attacks comes with the US experiencing a natural gas boom thanks to expanded use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” which can unlock shale gas from deposits that had previously been inaccessible.
Brian Contos of the online security firm McAfee, said these types of attacks are increasingly common and that companies are responding with tighter controls.
“What we thought kept us secure the last 20 years won’t keep us secure the next. As the enemy matures and adapts so must we,” Contos said.
Fox News host jokes about Sarah Sanders’ exit: It’s hard being ‘mouthpiece for a racist, traitorous Nazi president’
Fox News host Jesse Watters on Wednesday joked that President Donald Trump is a "racist, traitorous Nazi president."
Watters marked the last day of Sarah Sanders' tenure as White House press secretary by recalling that she had been a favorite target of activists.
"You are supposed to chase Sarah Sanders out of the restaurant, remember that?" Watters asked Fox News host Martha MacCallum. "They have to dehumanize Sarah Sanders, they have to isolate her, make her feel like not a real person because, remember, she is the mouthpiece for the racist, traitorous Nazi president. He cages kids, sexually assaults people, he is a madman."
‘Fundamentally’ immoral: Federal asylum officers sue Trump administration over immigration policy
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers are filing suit against the Trump administration, alleging that the president's policy requiring asylum seekers be held in Mexico awaiting their hearing is a risk to their lives.
The officers told a federal court that the policy, which was implemented ostensibly to relieve overcrowding at U.S. detention facilities, is "fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations."
Here’s how Trump’s latest comments dredge up his nasty treatment of John McCain
Speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Wednesday, President Donald Trump once again made comments revealing he has little interest in treading sensitively around his feud with the late Sen. John McCain.
He lamented that fact that, during his first two years as president, he struggled to get the votes he wanted for his agenda because he only had 51 (initially 52) Republicans in the Senate.
"And sometimes, you know, they had a little hard time with a couple of them, right?" Trump added, referring to GOP senators who didn't bow to his will. “Fortunately they’re gone now. They have gone on to greener pastures. Or perhaps far-less-green pastures. But they are gone. They are gone ... I’m very happy they are gone.”