FBI and federal agencies held a discussion for leaders of Texas pipeline and oil and gas enterprises on physical and cyber threats to the U.S. energy infrastructure.

According to the FBI, Houston’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Perrye K. Turner welcomed representatives from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The briefing took place on November 6, 2019 within the FBI Houston Field Office.

“World-class energy companies have made Houston their home, so it makes perfect sense for FBI Houston to host this critical briefing between our federal partners and private energy partners,” said SAC Turner. “By sharing threat information with our regional private sector partners and raising industry awareness, we can better protect the technology and innovation that makes the Houston region a world leader in the energy field from disruptive cyberattacks and cyber espionage.”

DOE Assistant Secretary Karen S. Evans recognizes the challenges of protecting America’s pipelines from security threats. “America’s oil and natural gas pipelines play an essential role in the economic security and energy independence of the nation. The Department of Energy will continue to work with our industry partners to share information and provide capability to better protect the United States,” stated Assistant Secretary Evans, head of the Department’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). As the Sector Specific Agency for the Energy Sector, DOE engages in regular threat briefings with critical energy infrastructure owners and operators to facilitate information sharing.

In January 2019, the Director of National Intelligence publicly assessed that “China has the ability to launch cyberattacks that cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure—such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks—in the United States," says the FBI. Additionally, the assessment described U.S. patented information and technology, particularly in the pipeline energy sector, as a target of foreign governments and companies seeking to increase their scientific, military, and economic advantages. In Houston as recently as April 2018, a sophisticated cyberattack against a shared data network forced four American natural-gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down computer communications with customers.

“The energy sector remains a key target of nation-state cyber intrusions, supply chain attacks, economic espionage efforts and other threats. Through information exchanges like these, we’re working to raise awareness of the threats and partner with the industry to mitigate risks,” said William Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

TSA Assistant Administrator Sonya Proctor noted, “The unified approach to the sharing of classified information regarding threats to our pipeline infrastructure is key to ensuring our industry partners have an elevated awareness of the ongoing threats. This ensures industry leaders are more aware of the focus and outcomes of our TSA teams during physical and cybersecurity reviews on critical pipeline systems that we coordinate with our federal partners.” TSA has structured oversight of pipeline security including the development of the TSA Pipeline Security Guidelines and execution of Corporate and Critical Facility Security Reviews.

The FBI partners with both the public and private sectors to provide counterintelligence tools and awareness training that helps American energy companies increase their understanding of the threats posed, especially by foreign adversaries. These briefings and trainings enable American companies to better protect their information, technology and facilities, says the FBI. “Both cyberattacks and the theft of proprietary pipeline technology threaten not only our region, but the entire U.S. economy. Our energy sector security is fundamentally tied to our national security,” said SAC Turner.