FireEye Testifies Before House Homeland Security Committee on Cyber Threats to Transportation and Energy Sectors

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The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on February 26th to examine the Federal Government’s challenges to securing surface transportation systems and pipelines against cyber attacks. FireEye’s John Hultquist, Director of Intelligence Analysis, testified before the committee, providing a retrospective view of disruptive attacks on the energy and surface transportation sectors and alerting lawmakers to current threat actors and their motives. He emphasized the economic and psychological effects of such attacks.

Speaking before the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation and Transportation and Maritime subcommittees, John stated, "It’s important to bear in mind that our adversaries are not necessarily preparing for a doomsday situation or any lasting blow, but an asymmetric scenario where they can project power within our shores. Ultimately, their aim may be to sow chaos rather than achieve some complex military objective. Nonetheless, these incidents could have economic and psychological effect we cannot ignore."

Full committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) also discussed the erosion of public confidence in surface transportation systems. "Today no cyber attacks have disrupted the actual operation of surface transportation systems, but attacks have resulted in financial disruption and affected public confidence in various modes of surface transportation. These small-scale attacks have shown that a relatively simple intrusion could upend surface transportation services causing significant harm and disruption."

Other committee Members voiced concerns regarding transportation and pipeline systems' vulnerabilities, and the consequences of attacks, including service disruptions and harm to the general public and the U.S. economy. Representative Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, said, "The vulnerability of this critical sector grows along with the risk posed by nefarious actors who may seek to exploit cybersecurity vulnerabilities to cause service disruptions or conduct economic espionage in general. Surface transportation systems utilize a number of interconnected information systems that when exposed presents cybersecurity vulnerabilities."

John highlighted current threat actors, sharing that FireEye is observing developing threats to these sectors in the Middle East, Ukraine, and South Korea; actors in Iran, Russia, and North Korea are the most active, John added. Criminal, state, and hacktivist actors have all demonstrated an interest in pipeline operators.

Witnesses and Representatives exchanged dialogue on the specific threat from China; increased Chinese espionage and growing threat intelligence have heightened concerns about the U.S. doing business with China, specifically the impact on the supply chain. "Government and industry stakeholders together must also address supply chain security concerns," said Representative Lou Correa (D-CA), the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security. "We must make sure that surface transportation systems are not made vulnerable to cyber espionage due to unchecked foreign manufacturing." 

Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation, added to the discussion, "The intelligence community and Congress have been clear in cautioning against the use of Chinese telecommunications products but it is unclear to me whether the federal government has assessed what if any additional cybersecurity threat is posed by contracting with a Chinese company to purchase railcars with advanced technologies."

Lawmakers sought feedback from witnesses regarding the Department of Homeland Security's authorities to mitigate and prevent cyber attacks on these critical infrastructure sectors. While legislation to provide more authority isn’t necessarily required, reviewing the gaps and exploring new legislation that would enhance coordination between the Federal government and the private sector would be welcomed, according to John.