A Cyberattack Forced America’s Biggest Gasoline Pipeline to Shut Down

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Talk about crude behavior. Hackers from a mysterious criminal outfit known as DarkSide have brought the country’s largest conduit of refined products — the Colonial Pipeline — to its knees with a crushing cyber attack.

Details of the attack emerged over the weekend, one day after the pipeline was forced to shut down its 5,500 mile system.

One Scary Reminder

Referred to as the “jugular” of the U.S. fuel pipeline system, Colonial transports more than 2.5 million barrels of fuel per day from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.

The Darkside attack involved the use of ransomware — where hackers install illicit software to seize control of a victim’s computer. Colonial didn’t disclose whether it paid a ransom to free its system, but said it “proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat.”

The Fallout: Much like the Suez Canal disaster, the impact to the supply chain will tie closely with how long the pipeline is offline. But the government is already ramping up:

  • Analysts say the government could temporarily waive the Jones Act, which would allow non-U.S.-flagged vessels to ship goods between U.S. ports to allow more fuel to be transported from the Gulf to the eastern seaboard.
  • Rules requiring gasoline to include biofuels could also be lifted temporarily to make it easier to produce more gasoline if a shortage emerged.

Amy Myers Jaffe, energy analyst and author of Energy’s Digital Future, told Politico “It’s the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of in the United States. We’re lucky if there are no consequences, but it’s a definite alarm bell.”

No One Time Thing: Cyberattacks on critical U.S. infrastructure have been a going concern for a decade, but criminals have been emboldened as of late. December’s SolarWinds hack by Russian intelligence compromised thousands of organizations including the U.S. government and, earlier this year, Chinese hackers gained access to thousands of Microsoft Exchange servers.

the takeaway

DarkSide’s origins are unknown, but the group fashions itself as something of a modern day Robin Hood. They target companies they say can pay ransoms and donate the sums to charity through untraceable means using the blockchain.