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TSA Pipeline Cyber ​​Security Directive Is Just First Step, Experts Say


The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issued a Safety Directive on improving pipeline cybersecurity. TSA released the document two days after the Biden administration disclosed the details of the regulations and less than a month after the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, a major gas shortage occurred in the Southeastern United States.

As a result of government maneuvers after 9/11, the TSA was granted statutory authority to secure surface transportation and ensure the safety of pipelines. The directive follows largely ineffective voluntary pipeline safety guidelines established by TSA in 2010 and updated in 2018.

These new regulations require designated pipeline security companies to report cybersecurity incidents to DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) no later than 12 hours after a cybersecurity incident has been identified. The TSA estimates that approximately 100 companies in the United States would fall under the mandates of the directive.

Pipeline owners and operators should also designate a cybersecurity coordinator who should be available for TSA and CISA 24/7 to coordinate cybersecurity practices and deal with any incidents that arise. Finally, pipeline owners and operators should “review their current operations against TSA’s recommendations for pipeline cybersecurity to assess cyber risks, identify gaps, develop remedial actions, and report findings to TSA. and CISA ”.

Although they do not appear anywhere in the directive, pipeline companies that fail to meet safety requirements would face financial fines, starting at $ 7,000 per day, government officials say. Moreover, the directive is probably only the beginning of more comprehensive regulatory requirements. In his Press release Announcing the directive, the TSA said “it is also considering mandatory follow-up measures that will further help the pipeline industry improve its cybersecurity and strengthen the public-private partnership so essential to our homeland’s cybersecurity.”

Many experts say the directive is long overdue, but is just the start towards more stringent pipeline safety requirements. Chris Krebs, a former director of CISA, called it a “progressive step” until safety and performance standards are developed.

Some companies and experts are skeptical

Some oil and gas companies greeted the directive with skepticism, privately claiming that the administration mainly pushed the directive out the door to generate a message of swift action in the wake of the colonial pipeline attack. Other representatives of the oil and gas industry suggest that the government did not sufficiently consult the companies concerned when drafting the directive.

American Petroleum Institute’s director of operational safety and emergency response, Suzanne Lemieux, presented a more positive official position. “The API supports TSA’s efforts to strengthen cyber reporting and works closely with the administration to develop incident reporting policies and procedures that best protect our critical infrastructure, including pipelines,” said she said in a statement. “Any regulations should improve reciprocal information sharing and liability protections, as well as build on our existing strong public-private coordination to streamline and increase our efforts to protect critical infrastructure across the country.”

Bryson Bort, founder of security firm Scythe and co-founder of nonprofit security organization ICS Village, agrees with Krebs that the directive is a step in a new direction. He also shares the feeling of some oil and gas companies that the directive may have been rushed. “He was rushed to show they are doing something, which is why he doesn’t do much other than provide a few sticks. [and no carrots]”He tells CSO.” You can’t report problems, and it will take time for them to build up the resources to do anything to help.

A clearer and shorter term benefit of the directive is the collection of statistics on essential violations from pipeline companies. “The report will allow the US government to have information on the extent of the problem that it doesn’t actually have today,” Bort says.

Former Justice and Navy lawyer Robert Cattanach, now a partner at Dorsey and Whitney, also points to the directive’s progressive nature. “This is just a very first step,” he told CSO. “I would predict it will be some time before we actually see meaningful regulations.”

Cattanach believes that one of the clear takeaways from the directive is that the pipeline industry “will need to improve its detection game overall”. He also believes that a balance needs to be struck in terms of what pipeline companies will be required to report. The directive states that pipeline companies must report “possible” cybersecurity incidents in addition to known incidents. “You can’t sound the fire alarm every time you smell smoke somewhere,” Cattanach says. “I think there has to be some balance.”

The fine structure is a mystery

One mystery surrounding the directive is the alleged $ 7,000 a day fines pipeline companies could impose, which are trivial penalties for lucrative pipeline operations. In addition, establishing these types of sanctions against the private sector usually goes through lengthy regulatory procedures. “It’s a multi-year process,” Cattanach says. “There is no way for them to impose fines without commenting.”

The directive does not offer any discussion of the legal or administrative basis for imposing fines on pipeline companies, nor does it explicitly mention fines. “I’ve been through it now literally back and forth, and I don’t see anything about the fines,” Cattanach says. When asked about the fines, CISA officials asked the CSO to speak to the TSA, which did not respond to CSO’s request to clarify the fines.

the Policy guidance on the application of sanctions, where the TSA sets out penalties for regulatory violations, could potentially be the vehicle for establishing pipeline fines. The policy does not currently specify anything about pipelines.

Additional regulations may take time to emerge

Even with the concerns and questions regarding the directive’s implementation, “it’s not a bad thing,” Cattanach says. “What do they really have to do? Not that much. Two things, right? They have to undertake this analysis, which they should do anyway. If they have a problem, they have to report it. within 12 hours. None of this is controversial. “

Despite various statements from DHS that it could issue additional regulations in a few weeks, the time frame for further steps is likely longer. “It will take months. It is too important not to do well,” says Cattanach.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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