The operator, Colonial Pipeline, said it had halted systems for its 5,500 miles of pipeline after being hit by a ransomware attack.
The operator of the system, Colonial Pipeline, said in a statement late Friday that it had shut down its 5,500 miles of pipeline, which it says carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, in an effort to contain the breach. Earlier Friday, there were disruptions along the pipeline, but it was not clear at the time whether that was a direct result of the attack or of the company’s moves to proactively halt it.
On Saturday, Colonial Pipeline acknowledged that its corporate computer networks had been hit by a ransomware attack, in which criminal groups hold data hostage until the victim pays a ransom. The company said it had shut the pipeline itself, a precautionary act, apparently for fear that the hackers might have obtained information that would enable them to attack susceptible parts of the pipeline.
Administration officials said they believed the attack was the act of a criminal group, rather than a nation seeking to disrupt critical infrastructure in the United States.
The shutdown of such a vital pipeline, one that has served the East Coast since the early 1960s, highlights the vulnerability of aging infrastructure that has been connected, directly or indirectly, to the internet.
Colonial, however, had to explain why gasoline and jet fuel were no longer flowing to its customers, and on Friday, the markets began to react as speculation swirled about whether an accident, a maintenance problem or a cyberincident accounted for the shutdown.
But on Saturday, Colonial, which is privately held, declined to say whether it planned to pay the ransom, which frequently suggests that a company is considering doing so, or has already paid. Nor did it say when normal operations would resume.
Colonial’s pipeline transports 2.5 million barrels each day, taking refined gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from the Gulf Coast up to New York Harbor and New York’s major airports. Most of that goes into large storage tanks, and with energy use depressed by the coronavirus pandemic, the attack was unlikely to cause any immediate disruptions.