Cyber Defense

Coast Guard sees natural gas exports as potential cyber issue

Following the Defense Department’s release of its updated cyber strategy, several of the services have followed suit.  Most recently, the Coast Guard released its cyber strategy, which includes three strategic priorities: defending cyberspace, enabling operations and protecting infrastructure.

The Coast Guard is responsible for protecting the nation’s maritime economy and the environment, defending maritime borders, and performing search and rescue missions at sea while being the only service branch included in the Homeland Security Department. 

In the increasingly active cyber domain, adversaries might turn to cyberspace as a response for actions conducted in the physical space. One area that concerns Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, is defending the United States’ exports of natural gas. “I look at the potential that the United States sits on right now, we sit on 20 percent of the world’s natural gas and we are just now building the infrastructure to export LNG [liquefied natural gas],” Zukunft said in a keynote address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on June 16. Zukunft pointed to the recent fracking and shale boom in the United States, which has made the U.S. the world’s largest producer of natural gas, which he referred to as a trade imbalance.    

“But when you think of the United States producing and now exporting LNG, and what is modern warfare going to look like in the 21st Century? Do we have adversaries among us today at a national level, forget about the non-state actors, but at a national level, and I think we can all answer that question. So right now who has the natural gas market niche in the [European Union] and parts of the Asia-Pacific region? It’s not us, it’s Russia,” Zukunft said, referring to the current conflict involving Russia and Ukraine in which Russia, which provides about 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas, has threatened to withhold its natural resources as a means of retaliation and coercion.     

Zukunft questioned what Russia might do if the U.S. begins to take from Russia’s market share. “Does Russia conduct electronic warfare against our military or might they want to conduct electronic warfare against our critical infrastructures?” He noted that this is another example of how the Coast Guard must protect against infrastructure in the cyber domain. “The LNG export potential the U.S. has right now, by most estimates, by the year 2020 the U.S. will be the net exporter of energy,” he said. “I need to make sure that the Coast Guard is postured for this growth factor in the maritime industry that is going to be very cyber dependent going forward.”

When asked about responding to cyber incidents in conventional military terms, Zuknuft noted that the attribution problem poses major challenges as it is difficult to “assign 100 percent attribution to an adversary short of a very overt attack from a state or non-state actor and say ‘we are going to infiltrate your system.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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