Colonial Pipeline Outage: The Issue of Increasing Cyberattacks

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by Erin Whitney ’24

One of the country’s biggest pipelines, operated by Colonial Pipelines, which carries gas and fuel and spans all the way from Texas to New York, was the victim of a cyber attack and was forced to temporarily shut down 5,500 miles of piping. This attack has had an impact on fuel supply on the East Coast, Florida through Maryland; there have been a surplus of reported outages.

The attack on Colonial Pipelines was in the form of ransomware, a method in which a criminal group holds data hostage and demands a ransom before returning it. The CEO of Colonial Pipeline, Joseph Blount, confirmed that his company paid the demanded $4.4 million in ransom to the Russian-based hackers behind the attack. President Biden has said that the group was not affiliated with the Russian government and the cyberattack is not being considered as politically motivated.

As of May 15, the company has returned to normal operations. However, with ransomware attacks on the rise in the last few years in a variety of industries including entertainment and healthcare, many are saying this incident emphasizes the need for updated infrastructure that is more secure against cyberattacks. As a result of this situation, there were fuel shortages, which is a huge issue not only for individuals but for airlines, as Colonial Pipeline provides jet fuel to a number of major airports.

“Our Justice Department has launched a new task force dedicated to prosecuting ransomware hackers to the full extent of the law,” President Biden announced in response to the growing pattern of incidents like this one.

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