The government hires criminal hackers
Ultimately, the operator of the most important pipeline in the United States had no choice but to pay nearly five million dollars in ransom. Hackers had blackmailed the Colonial Pipeline company and encrypted and stolen data on its systems. In a number of states on the east coast that rely on the 8,800 kilometers of pipeline network for their supply, many gas stations ran out of fuel during the week. Long queues formed in front of the gas pumps, and hamster purchases made the situation worse. The company did not confirm the payment, but people familiar with the situation did.
The White House was forced to intervene soon after the attack late last week. A criminal attack grew into a threat to national security and relentlessly exposed the vulnerability of vital utilities in the United States.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday evening that the pipeline would be restarted. He promised the citizens that the bottlenecks in the fuel supply would be resolved over the weekend and extended special permits for fuel transports with trucks and ships in order to alleviate the consequences of the almost week-long blackout.
The programs provided by the hackers of the Darkside group to decrypt the data, however, worked only slowly; Colonial Pipeline used its own backup copies to restore its networks and bring the pipeline back into operation. On normal days, it pumps 400 million liters of fuel from the Gulf of Mexico to states along the east coast. 50 million Americans, major airports and ports depend on the pipe network.
Biden wants to better protect critical infrastructures
Biden did not comment on the ransom payment - but it poses a major dilemma for the government in its efforts to combat attacks with so-called ransomware, the number of which has grown just as rapidly in recent years as the level of demands made by digital blackmailers. Biden's spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the government's stance remained that no ransom should be paid because it could encourage criminals to commit piracy. But she did not criticize Colonial directly.
The payment was reportedly made in the crypto currency Bitcoin on the Internet. The recipient remains anonymous and cannot be traced. The US government is considering banning such ransom payments. There are also calls for stronger regulation of cryptocurrencies analogous to the regulations for combating money laundering and terrorist financing in other transactions.
Biden said the US did not believe the Russian government was involved in the hacking attack. "But we have strong reasons to believe that the criminals who carried out this attack live in Russia," added the president. His government spoke directly to Moscow about the need for responsible countries to take decisive action against such blackmailers. He expects to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin about it at a planned summit.
The US president made it clear that the attack was an urgent reminder why the US needed to better protect its critical infrastructure, both against natural disasters and human attacks. Private operators would have to invest more in the security of their computer systems. Today you control power plants and power grids, the water and fuel supply or the healthcare system. Biden announced that the government was working on measures to stop such attacks. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has set up a task force to ensure the prosecution of digital blackmailers, who are currently often undetected and therefore unpunished.
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