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The computer networks managing major natural-gas pipelines are currently experiencing a series of cyberattacks, according to government officials.
The attacks have been going on for months and involve fraudulent emails targeting employees of the gas companies.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, told The Hill that the department is working with the FBI and other federal agencies to address the attacks.
He said the department's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team began working with the gas companies in March to "prepare mitigation plans customized to their current network and security configurations to detect, mitigate and prevent such threats."
It is unclear how much damage, if any, the attacks have caused.
The incident comes as Congress is debating whether to require critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, to meet minimum cybersecurity standards.
Senate Democrats and the White House argue that minimum standards are necessary to protect critical systems from devastating attacks.
A gas pipeline accident in San Bruno, Calif., in 2010 caused a massive explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Supporters of the mandates argue that hackers could cause a similar catastrophe with a cyberattack.
But Republicans say the regulations are unnecessary and would burden businesses.
House GOP leaders have indicated they will not allow a floor vote on any legislation that creates new cybersecurity regulations. Last month, they passed their own cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), that focuses only on voluntary information sharing and does not include mandates.
At least three confidential "amber" alerts – the second most sensitive next to "red" – were issued by DHS beginning March 29, all warning of a "gas pipeline sector cyber intrusion campaign" against multiple pipeline companies. But the wave of cyber attacks, which apparently began four months ago – and may also affect Canadian natural gas pipeline companies – is continuing.
That fact was reaffirmed late Friday in a public, albeit less detailed, "incident response" report from the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), an arm of DHS based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. It reiterated warnings in the earlier confidential alerts made directly to pipeline companies and some power companies.
At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War, written by Thomas C. Reed, a former Air Force secretary who served in the US National Security Council during the Reagan administration, documents how software and other technology was deliberately created with flaws as part of US attempts to undermine the Soviet economy.
In his book, Reed says the pipeline explosion was just one example of "cold-eyed economic warfare" against the Soviet Union at a time when the US was trying to block Western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. The CIA slipped the flawed software to the Soviets in a way they would not detect it, according to Reed.