Colonial Pipeline said Friday that a ransomware attack forced it to temporarily stop all pipeline operations.
The U.S. government says it will then help a major pipeline operator restore service a cyber attack with ransomware has forced its network offline.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Sunday that Washington is working to prevent more severe fuel supply disruptions and to help Colonial Pipeline restart as quickly as possible.
The company has a network of pipelines spanning more than 8,850 km (5,500 miles) from Texas to New Jersey.
“It’s a hands-on effort now,” Raimondo said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation program.
“We are working closely with the company, state and local officials to make sure they return to normal operations as quickly as possible and that there are no supply disruptions.”
Colonial Pipeline said in a statement on Friday afternoon that it had been the victim of “a cybersecurity attack” and, a day later, confirmed media reports that a rescue program had been involved in the incident.
Ransomware is a type of malware designed to block systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access to it. Malicious software has grown in popularity over the past five years.
“In response, we proactively took certain offline systems to contain the threat, which has temporarily stopped all pipeline operations and affected some of our IT systems,” the company said.
Colonial Pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day of gasoline, diesel, aircraft fuel and other refined products across its entire network, and says it carries 45 percent of the U.S. east coast’s fuel supply.
Retail fuel experts, including the American Automobile Association, said a multi-day outage could have significant effects on regional fuel supply, especially in the southeastern U.S.
President Joe Biden received information about the cyberattack on Saturday morning, the White House said, adding that the government was working to try to help the company restore operations and prevent supply disruptions.
Experts said gas prices are unlikely to be affected if normal operations resume in the next few days, but the incident should wake up companies to the vulnerabilities they face.
David Kennedy, founder and chief security consultant at TrustedSec, said that once a ransomware attack is discovered, companies have little recourse to completely rebuild their infrastructure or pay for the ransom.
“Ransomware is absolutely out of control and is one of the biggest threats we face as a nation,” Kennedy told The Associated Press. “The problem we have is that most companies are not prepared to deal with these threats.”