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Cyberattack on US pipeline is linked to criminal gang

Pipeline Cyberattack
Posted at 3:31 PM, May 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-09 18:31:13-04

NEW YORK (AP) — The cyberextortion attempt that has forced the shutdown of a vital U.S. pipeline was carried out by a criminal gang known as DarkSide that cultivates a Robin Hood image of stealing from corporations and giving a cut to charity, two people close to the investigation said Sunday.

The shutdown, meanwhile, stretched into its third day, with the Biden administration saying an “all-hands-on-deck” effort is underway to restore operations and avoid disruptions in the fuel supply.

Experts said that gasoline prices are unlikely to be affected if the pipeline is back to normal in the next few days but that the incident — the worst cyberattack to date on critical U.S. infrastructure — should serve as a wake-up call to companies about the vulnerabilities they face.

The pipeline, operated by Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, carries gasoline and other fuel from Texas to the Northeast. It delivers roughly 45% of fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to the company.

It was hit by what Colonial called a ransomeware attack, in which hackers typically lock up computer systems by encrypting data, paralyzing networks, and then demand a large ransom to unscramble it.

On Sunday, Colonial Pipeline said it was actively in the process of restoring some of its IT systems. It says it remains in contact with law enforcement and other federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, which is leading the federal government response. The company has not said what was demanded or who made the demand.

However, two people close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the culprit as DarkSide. It is among ransomware gangs that have “professionalized” a criminal industry that has cost Western nations tens of billions of dollars in losses in the past three years.

DarkSide claims that it does not attack hospitals and nursing homes, educational or government targets and that it donates a portion of its take to charity. It has been active since August and, typical of the most potent ransomware gangs, is known to avoid targeting organizations in former Soviet bloc nations.

Colonial did not say whether it has paid or was negotiating a ransom, and DarkSide neither announced the attack on its dark web site nor responded to an Associated Press reporter’s queries. The lack of acknowledgment usually indicates a victim is either negotiating or has paid.

On Sunday, Colonial Pipeline said it is developing a “system restart” plan. It said its main pipeline remains offline but some smaller lines are now operational.

“We are in the process of restoring service to other laterals and will bring our full system back online only when we believe it is safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations,” the company said in a statement.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Sunday that ransomware attacks are “what businesses now have to worry about,” and that she will work “very vigorously” with the Department of Homeland Security to address the problem, calling it a top priority for the administration.

“Unfortunately, these sorts of attacks are becoming more frequent,” she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We have to work in partnership with business to secure networks to defend ourselves against these attacks.”

She said President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack.

The Justice Department has a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks.