US Homeland Security Chief Vows
Broad Response to Pipeline Cyberattack
May 13, 2021
The U.S. Department of Homeland
Security is leading a government-wide response to the cyberattack that shut down
the largest gasoline pipeline in the United States and has the capability to
counter the threat, according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“We’re working at the direction of the president in an all-of-government way to
address the cyber security threat that Colonial suffered and that other
businesses and institutions across all our country all are vulnerable to,”
Mayorkas told lawmakers during a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
The Colonial Pipeline system on Friday was forced to shut down its entire
network along the U.S. East Coast in the wake of the cyberattack that the
company said was caused by ransomware used by hackers. A cybersecurity firm
FireEye has linked at least five Russian-speaking hackers to the malware. The
pipeline network is responsible for nearly half of the U.S. East Coast's fuel
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mayorkas said that the
Biden administration is considering invoking the Jones Act and other authorities
to ensure that gasoline carried by ships reaches the regions impacted by the
pipeline shutdown. The Jones Act requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports
be carried by U.S. vessels.
“We’re working very closely with the Department of Transportation and the
Department of Energy [as well as other federal agencies] to bring all of the
resources and capabilities to bear to ensure the well-being of the American
people and those impacted in the regions within Colonial Pipeline’s
jurisdiction,” Mayorkas said.
Colonial has said it will restore operation of the pipeline by the end of the
U.S. Law enforcement officials have recently sounded the alarm about the growing
threat of ransomware. Mayorkas said he recently warned business leaders about
the “very type of attack” that Colonial suffered and that “has galvanized
correctly our attention.”
Ransomware is a type of malicious software criminal actors use to encrypt data
on a computer system, holding the computer hostage until a ransom is paid.
Ransomware attacks have resulted in losses of more than $350 million this year,
an increase of more than 300 percent over the past year,” Mayorkas said.
Meanwhile, Mayorkas also announced at the hearing that his department has
created a dedicated intelligence unit to focus on domestic violent extremism.
The new branch will “ensure we develop the expertise necessary to combat this
threat by using sound, timely intelligence,” Mayorkas told the committee.
In addition, DHS has also renamed a separate office that is focused on combating
violent extremism to the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships,
Working with community organizations and law enforcement agencies, the rebranded
center will ensure “our prevention efforts are grounded in an approach to
violence prevention that leverages behavioral threat assessment and management
tools and addresses early-risk factors that can lead to radicalization to
violence,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas testified alongside Attorney General Merrick Garland on domestic
The hearing comes as law enforcement officials warn that some domestic violent
extremists may have been emboldened by the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol
by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
The attack left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and more
than 100 other officers injured.
Joe Biden has made combating domestic terrorism a top priority of his
administration, and in January he directed the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence to conduct a review of the threat of domestic terror.
In March, ODNI released the intelligence community’s assessment of the threat,
warning that domestic violent extremists pose “an elevated threat” to the
homeland in 2021.
In particular, the ODNI warned that racially or ethnically motivated violent
extremists, known as RMVEs, and anti-government violent militia members present
the most lethal threats, with the first group most likely to carry out mass
Between 2015 and 2020, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists were
responsible for most deadly domestic terrorism attacks, Jill Sanborn, the FBI’s
top counter terrorism official told a House panel last month.
According to a recent report by the non-partisan Center for Strategic and
International Studies, white supremacist groups were responsible for 41 of 61
“terrorist plots and attacks” carried out during the first eight months of 2020.