A cyberattack on May 8th forced the Colonial Pipeline Company to halt all pipeline operations due to a ransomware attack. Following the shutdown and analysis of the active threat and its damage, the Department of Transportation declared a regional state of emergency for 17 states due to possible fuel shortages. The FBI has named Darkside as the group responsible for the attack.
Darkside is an organized Russian criminal group that historically targets and attacks for-profit companies in predominately English-speaking countries. Darkside has obtained 100 gigabytes of data, presumably the company’s private information, and has requested a ransom. If the ransom is not paid, Darkside has announced they will publish the data they have on the internet.
This attack shows just how articulate and methodical cyber attacks are becoming by nation-states and private criminal organizations. Cybercrime is an extremely complex industry of crime that the United States is continuously struggling to prevent, deter, and combat actively. ‘Targeted companies are not the only victim in situations such as this one, however. The American people, government infrastructure, and private information are at risk. Having to shut down the country’s largest gasoline pipeline shows just how vulnerable the U.S. cyberinfrastructure is.
The ramifications of this attack may be the most impactful we have ever seen on a real-world scale. Gas prices have already risen and are expected to hit a 7-year high. There is no information on when the pipeline will resume operation, but according to experts, if the shutdown surpasses five days, America faces a significant increase in prices.
Although Darkside claims to be an apolitical group seeking money, not political or societal disruptions, it seems hard to believe. The group is tied to Russia, and their attack has already caused political and societal disruptions. Could the Russian government be freelancing this group to attack the United States? Is this a case of national security? Some Congressmen seem to think so. Senator Cassidy of Louisiana, who sits on the energy committee, suggests this is a national security issue that he confidently believes could draw unity from Republicans and Democrats.
President Biden announced he is preparing to issue an executive order to strengthen cybersecurity for federal agencies and their contractors. What would that include, but more importantly, will it be enough to address this new realm of crime and vulnerability? Federal officials that have laid their eyes on circulating drafts warn it is not enough to prevent attacks from nation-states and highly skilled hackers. The executive order, as the draft stands, would not even affect companies like the Colonial Pipeline; 85% of U.S. critical infrastructure is controlled by private firms, including the Colonial Pipeline.
What can be done to address the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of private companies and government agencies? The first question that needs to be addressed is whose responsibility is it? Is it the federal government’s role to protect the American people and their private information, the economy, and infrastructure? Or does the responsibility fall on these private companies to protect themselves and their consumers? If the nation continues to be two steps behind Russia, China, and criminal organizations such as Darkside, the impacts of these attacks will become larger. Cybersecurity may become the United States’ largest vulnerability.
Read more from Keelin Ferris.