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Updated TSA Guidelines Suggest New Approach for Pipeline Cybersecurity

The Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) has released a newly updated version of its “Pipeline Security Guidelines” (“Guidelines”) which outlines the measures that should be taken to protect pipeline cyber assets. TSA, which has oversight over more than 2.6 million miles of natural gas and oil pipelines, had not updated its Guidelines since 2011.  However, the threat of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy sector, has increased in volume, sophistication, and magnitude over the last seven years. While the electric industry has binding and enforceable cybersecurity standards, the original Guidelines issued by TSA were not mandatory. The voluntary nature of the Guidelines has raised concerns for electric regulators, utilities, and lawmakers given the interdependent relationship between gas-fueled generation and the power grid. To bridge this gap, last month, the TSA refreshed its Pipeline Security Guidelines and, while the Guidelines are still not mandatory, they significantly bolster TSA’s guidance with regard to cybersecurity measures.

Like the 2011 version, the revamped Guidelines are applicable to operational natural gas transmission pipeline systems, hazardous liquid pipeline systems, natural gas distribution pipeline systems, and liquefied natural gas facilities. However there are some key changes in this latest version.  First, the incident response protocols have been changed.  Second, the Guidelines take a new approach, which focuses on Operational Technology (“OT”) systems and bifurcates the suggested measures based on whether an OT system is classified as a critical or non-critical pipeline cyber asset. Third, unlike the outdated 2011 guidelines, the TSA’s Guidelines state that “to implement an effective cybersecurity strategy, pipeline operators should consider the approach” established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) in its recently updated “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity”  (“Framework”).  Specifically, TSA’s Guidelines outline suggested security measures by categories correlating with the main tenets of the voluntary NIST Framework. The TSA also encourages pipeline operators to look to the guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy, as well as industry-specific standards and best practices when developing and implementing cybersecurity measures. 

It is important to note that the most recent TSA Guidelines, like their predecessor, are mere guidance and do “not impose requirements on any person or company.”  However, as noted in a previous VNF Alert, this latest version reinforces the notion that implementing the NIST Framework is an important bell weather for critical infrastructure entities to undertake reasonable, pragmatic, and protective measures that can mitigate legal and technical risks. While it is unlikely that any mandatory regulations will be imposed on the natural gas industry in the near future, the recent cyberattacks within the gas sector have caught the attention of regulators, lawmakers, and interconnected energy sectors. The increasing pressure to impose mandatory guidance has placed pipeline operators under the microscope.   It has become important, now more than ever, for operators to demonstrate that the voluntary standards are sufficient to provide the necessary level of cyber and by extension national security. 

© 2019 Van Ness Feldman LLP

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About this Author

Gwen Fleming, Van Ness Feldman Law Firm, Washington DC, White Collar and Environmental Law Litigation Attorney
Partner

Gwen Keyes Fleming has more than twenty years of public sector experience, having served as both an elected and appointed official at the state and local levels, as well as in various branches of the federal government.  Most recently, she served as the Principal Legal Advisor (General Counsel) for Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and as Chief of Staff to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama Administration.  In addition to her time at the DHS and EPA, Gwen served as the EPA Region 4 (...

202-298-1928
Darshana Singh, Van Ness Feldman Law Firm, Washington DC, Cybersecurity and Energy Law Attorney
Associate

Darsh Singh assists clients and firm professionals in the energy regulatory arena. Prior to joining Van Ness Feldman, Darsh served as a law clerk in the Office of Administrative Litigation at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and interned at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).   While at FERC, Darsh assisted Trial Staff in natural gas and oil pipeline rate proceedings and conducted research on market-based rates.   During her time at the FTC, Darsh focused on complex antitrust and consumer protection issues. 

While at The George Washington University Law School, Darsh served as a Vice President of the Antitrust Club and participated in the school’s Moot Court teams.

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