TSA plays key role in battling cyber, insider threats in Gulf

Monday, December 21, 2020
TSS McGreevy photo

TSA is on the frontlines battling cybersecurity and insider threats.

TSA partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Gulf of Mexico Area Maritime Security Committee to bring together oil and gas companies in the Gulf for a special exercise to address cyber and insider threats and how to respond to possible attacks.

Transportation Security Specialist Darrin McGreevy of TSA’s Surface Operations and Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program said over two dozen oil and gas pipeline companies participated in the online exercise. Several federal, state and local agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, also took part.

Exercise photo
U.S. Coast Guard representatives during the insider threat, cybersecurity exercise, which TSA supported. (Photo by Coast Guard Petty Officer Sydney Phoenix)

“Many of the operators in this exercise deal with having their operations disrupted or shut down if they become victims of a physical attack or cybersecurity attack,” said McGreevy, who facilitated the exercise. “Oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are isolated and open to attacks. Cyber risks are serious as well since most of the systems are controlled electronically.”

The exercise centered on a specific combined insider threat and cybersecurity attack scenario. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was conducted virtually instead of in-person, which McGreevy admits created some challenges. He said it’s difficult to read the room and direct your questions when you’re looking at a computer screen, but he believes it was a success.

“Exercises like this help raise awareness of tools and measures that can be implemented to address potential vulnerabilities,” noted McGreevy. “The result improved information coordination and communication partnerships, which can sometimes be the most important component to reduce the risk and mitigate attacks.”

McGreevy said the Coast Guard, which oversees maritime security with TSA’s support, focused this event on the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf because of the large number of regulated oil and gas pipeline companies in that area.

It’s a partnership that goes back more than a decade-and-a-half. “TSA has worked with the Coast Guard and all of the Area Maritime Security Committees going back to the days of TSA’s Port Security Training Exercises Program in 2004,” McGreevy said.

It’s a strong partnership expected to last for many years to come.