CHICAGO — Gas stations across the U.S. Southeast were given a taste of their vulnerability to cyberattacks last month when the Colonial Pipeline was shut down for about a week by a ransomware attack from a group of hackers known as DarkSide.
So we need to discuss the elephant in the room—data security.
Despite warnings to avoid hoarding gas, consumers did just that. It was hard to miss the viral images of gas station customers creating a dangerous fire hazard by filling multiple fuel containers in the trunks of their cars with gasoline. The pipeline’s brief shutdown and consumer panic worked together to cause a shortage of gasoline in the southeast and a spike in gas prices across the country.
This was not an isolated incident. It was a sign of things to come if organizations in the business of supplying fuel do not step up data security. There will be more attacks against more pieces of critical infrastructure, and if the companies managing them are as unprepared as Colonial was to face this attack, any resource we rely on in this country could be in danger.
This is not meant to be an alarmist threat, but a call to action to invest in data security. DarkSide likely broke into Colonial’s system using a virtual private network account password, according to Bloomberg. While it’s unclear how the hackers obtained the password, Bloomberg notes that multifactor authentication, a basic cybersecurity tool, might have stopped the hackers.
Retailers should not make the mistake of thinking their stores won’t be targets of data theft. The outside EMV deadline for convenience stores and gas stations has passed as of April 2021. This means that gas station operators are legally liable and can receive heavy fines for data theft perpetrated at their stores if they do not have chip-reading technology installed in their fuel dispensers and point-of-sale (POS) systems.
Data security can be easy to ignore, but if the past year has proven anything, it is that our industry is going to rely on and invest in technology more as time goes on. We should do everything in our power to protect that investment.
Editor's Note: This will be the last issue of the CSP Tech e-newsletter. It has been a treat to analyze emerging technology trends here, and readers can still find that analysis in the tech sections of CSP Daily News and CSP magazine. Convenience retail has a bright future in the tech space, especially in checkout, delivery, loyalty and back-office software.