Posted by nbsweb Last updated 13th May 2021 reading time
A recent cyberattack on a continental US-based oil pipeline, and the infrastructure surrounding it, has demonstrated drivers and the communities in the area just how important cybersecurity is in all aspects of modern life.
The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack disrupted operations in several aspects of petroleum and fossil fuel distribution, impacting both urban and rural communities with surprising speed. Suddenly faced with urgent fuel shortages and long lines at the pumps, communities faced the prospect of supply chain disruptions should the shortages continue.
The question became, for a short while, not whether to pay extra for an Uber Eats delivery, but if whether there will be food on the shelves at all by next Tuesday.
Systems Are More Than Just What You Can See
Like all complicated systems, petrol is about more than just driving the kids to football practice.
Rural communities rely on petrol in order to simply go about the necessities of day-to-day life when social and shopping centers are separated by great distances. Urban areas, meanwhile, rely on vast quantities of food and product to support a densely centralized population. Petrol is generally delivered regularly, with filling stations storing only a certain amount in tanks at any given time.
That means that when the supply gets cut off, it gets cut off quickly—and drivers and transport companies are often caught off guard.
Similarly, while many hard goods stores could theoretically operate for weeks or months on their existing inventory, grocery stores often don’t store more than a few days’ worth of food—particularly when it comes to fresh food, of course.
Popular items go out of stock temporarily. Prices are jostled around while transport costs are re-calculated for the increased fuel costs. And so on.
What Caused All This?
A vulnerability in Colonial Pipeline’s systems exposed the company to a ransomware attack that crippled their systems, rendering their systems worthless without the encryption key provided (at a price) by the hacking group.
Without being able to apply logistics to their product or monitor for safety, Colonial Pipeline shut down operations over the entire pipeline network, which spans nearly 9,000km over the eastern continental US.
Downstream effects included the shutdown of two distillation units in the Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur, Texas refinery, as a response to the reduced raw supply from the pipelines. Meanwhile, the knock-on economic effects from a sudden gas shortage will have proven incalculable by the time order is restored.
It Takes One Hole To Sink A Mighty Ship
In other words, a single security vulnerability in a single company shut down infrastructure in a huge region of the United States and disrupted thousands of businesses which had nothing to do with anything. That’s a lot of damage for one little security gap.
What can we take away from this? Your business in particular may or may not be as critical to the infrastructure of the community around you as Continental Pipeline.
Still, every business has a shared responsibility to defend its own corporate and customer data. The repercussions could extend a lot further than just your own business, so be sure to employ the latest security measures and secure your business—for you, and your community around you too!