If you live anywhere on the East Coast, you may have already experienced the complications of the recent hack of the Colonial Pipeline. Even after just a few days, gas shortages and rising gas prices abound in multiple states. Some have even declared states of emergency over it.
The direct effects of this hack are temporary; just how temporary still remains to be seen. Beyond that, the boldness of this particular attack hints at a potentially bigger problem when it comes to U.S. infrastructure and cybersecurity.
The following FAQs address the details of this hack, and why it’s such a big deal.
What is the Colonial Pipeline?
The Colonial Pipeline is the largest pipeline currently operating in the U.S. It is a 5,500 mile-long supply line that carries about 2.5 million barrels (or 105 million gallons) of diesel, petrol, jet fuel, and heating oil to Eastern states from Texas and Gulf Coast refineries every day. That’s about 45% of the East Coast’s overall supply.
How Did It Get Shutdown?
On May 7, hackers attacked the Colonial Pipeline Company network. The attack effectively disabled computer systems responsible for fuel production. The company then took its operating system offline to prevent further infiltration and try to fix what had already been affected.
Who Was Responsible for the Attack?
The hack was orchestrated by DarkSide, a Russian criminal organization that specializes in ransomware. In other words, they hack into an organization’s system and hold it, or at least parts of it, for ransom. It’s a digital scheme reminiscent of a physical kidnapping, where they steal and hold something precious for ransom in exchange for payment.
DarkSide claims the intent behind their attack was not necessarily to shut everything down. They just wanted money. (Which they got. Colonial Pipeline paid the hackers upwards of $5 million.)
Who Does the Pipeline Shutdown Affect?
There are 16 states (and D.C.) in the South and East that rely heavily on the Colonial Pipeline supply, especially the South. News of the hack has led to panic and gas shortages in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. And prices for gas, already up a bit as spring and summer travel season warms up, have gone up even more.
Until the pipeline gets back up to speed, there are plans to truck fuel in to the areas that are hardest hit. Some airlines are even flying fuel in to manage stockpiles where needed. And they are redirecting long-haul flights to locations that aren’t as heavily affected.
How Long Will the Pipeline Be Non-Operational?
As of May 13, the pipeline has officially been restarted. Thankfully, Colonial Pipeline Co. management says it was able to protect most of its systems from the cyberattack. So, apart from resulting consumer panic, any damage and interruption was relatively minimal.
While it may already have resumed normal operations, it will still take some time to get delivery processes and supply levels back to normal. So, gas shortages are likely to continue for a while longer.
Should I Worry About Further Hacks on Important Infrastructure?
Hackers attempt attacks like this all the time. Most of these are, thankfully, thwarted by cybersecurity efforts. However, even with adept cybersecurity experts on the job, more and more of these kinds of hacks are bound to occur. Hackers like the challenge of infiltrating seemingly strong networks. And, most importantly, there is a lot of money to potentially be had.
While it can’t help for normal citizens to dwell on such things everyday, this high-profile attack on the Colonial Pipeline highlights just how vulnerable our infrastructure can be. Hopefully, other companies take note and then take action to strengthen their network fail safes and security.
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