Pipeline Hack: Biden Issues An Executive Order

President Biden has signed a new US Executive Order following the ransomware attack closed down the main US oils and gas pipeline supplying the East Coast which will alter how companies manage and report cyber security incidents. “Recent cybersecurity incidents such as SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange, and the Colonial Pipeline incident are a sobering reminder that US public and private sector entities increasingly face sophisticated malicious cyber activity from both nation-state actors and cyber criminals,” the White House said in a statement.

Despite some reports that the operating company has paid an undisclosed ransom to regain control, the pipeline remains closed. 

This Order aims at strengthening US cyber security defenses, a move that follows a series of sweeping cyber attacks on private companies and federal government networks over the past year. “The United States faces persistent and increasingly sophisticated malicious cyber campaigns that threaten the public sector, the private sector, and ultimately the American people’s security and privacy.  The Federal Government must improve its efforts to identify, deter, protect against, detect, and respond to these actions and actors”, says the Executive Order for Improving the US Cyber Security. “We routinely install software with significant vulnerabilities to some of our most critical systems and infrastructure,...systems that are used to deliver our power and our water to help manage traffic,” a senior Biden administration official told the press. 

This Executive Order will change the way businesses communicate with the US government and the public about their cybersecurity position and also compels IT providers share information about network breaches with the government, even when they usually would not do so. It adds new standards for government purchases of federal software and IT services. 

The Biden administration hopes that the new federal requirements, will influence how IT providers make products and services available to the public. If these changes had been implemented earlier it seems likely they would have helped to prevent the SolarWinds attack that has affected multiple US government agencies.   “We use federal buying power to jumpstart the market for secure software,” said the official. 

The order also establishes a new incident review board, modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, that will have a private sector co-chair to quickly review major cyber incidents and make recommendations on what to do about them. And it puts in place a standard playbook for responding to major cyber incidents. 

 Perhaps its most important feature, it will establish a new rating system to allow the public to judge the security of products and services that they’re buying, similar to the Department of Energy’s Energy Star rating system. That could affect the way consumers buy internet-enabled products and services. For instance, a shopper arbitrating between two baby monitors would be able to immediately see which one had the higher rating. 

The Biden Administration acknowledged that actions of the federal government alone in responding to cyber incidents are not enough, and called on private sector companies “to follow the Federal government’s lead and take ambitious measures to augment and align cybersecurity investments with the goal of minimising future incidents.”

This attack did not appear to involve the kind of highly sophisticated steps that Russia and China's state sponsored hackers are best known for.  Rather than directly try to take over the pipelines, the attackers went after what officials say was poorly protected corporate data, stealing it on such a large scale that it forced the company to close  the pipeline rather than risk the attack spreading further across the USA.

The White House:      DefenseOne:      CNBC:     Spectrum News:     New York Times:    Image: The White House

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