Recently, Colonial Pipeline has come under a ransomware attack, forcing them to temporarily shut down. Colonial Pipeline is one of the largest fuel companies in the United States, providing gasoline and other fuel to much of the East Coast, from Houston to the New York Harbor. Furthermore, private companies like Colonial Pipeline, own and operate a lot of the country’s critical infrastructure. Thus, this shutdown impacts not only fuel supply and prices, but also the government.
Colonial Pipeline supplies half of all diesel and gas on the East Coast, as well as fuel for major airports. The shutdown has extended already raised gas prices and drivers are put under more pressure as the seasonal peak demand approaches. In fact, panic buying has ensued as people become frantic over the possibility of a lack of fuel. Stations are being run dry as a result of this selfishness. Jet fuel delivery challenges are another major predicament. Major East Coast airports only keep three to five days worth of fuel in inventory. Thus, even a two to five day suspension will have a dramatic impact.
A ransomware attack is one in which the rightful owner of a computer or network is locked out. The computer or network is held hostage until the victim pays for it, with hackers threatening victims with exposing sensitive information to force them to comply. The FBI has identified the Russian criminal group DarkSide as being responsible. The group has stated that they only attacked Colonial Pipeline for money, and that they were not working on the behalf of a foreign government. While it is still unclear whether they have ties to other Eastern Europeans or Russian criminal groups, the attack was not tied to the Russian government. As this recent cybersecurity attack was one of many attacks in recent times, concerns have been raised over the USA's infrastructure. The Biden administration has launched efforts to increase cybersecurity in the country’s power grid, but the White House’s role in addressing the issue is limited because Colonial Pipeline is a private company.
Although Colonial Pipeline has not reached out for federal aid as of yet, the White House has been working to discern the extent of the threat. An emergency working group has been set up to deal with possible energy supply issues, and rules on highway petroleum shipping have been loosened. An executive order to better respond to cyber attacks is being finalized as well. Grants programs to reach companies outside existing ones are also being considered for development to amp up security across the country. The Justice Department has created a task force to respond to the growing threat of ransomware by unifying efforts to prevent and stop ransomware attacks.