The FBI has confirmed that the Russian criminal gang known as DarkSide are responsible for the attack that shut down America’s largest fuel pipeline four days ago and sent gas prices surging – as experts fear the attack could turn a ‘cyber disaster into a real-world catastrophe’.
The attack on Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New Jersey and transports 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply, is the largest assault on US energy infrastructure in history and has sent shockwaves across the industry.
It has left Colonial and the US government scrambling to restart the network in a bid to avoid fuel shortages and drastic, long term price hikes.
Colonial said it was forced to shut down all its pipeline operations on Friday to contain the threat after becoming the victim of a ransomware cyberattack, which is a technique where the victim’s computer systems are hacked and then payment is demanded to unlock them.
DarkSide, the Russian hacking outfit made up of ransomware veterans, is behind the attack, the FBI confirmed on Monday.
The cyber gang, which was started eight months ago, is believed to based out of Russia where they are given free rein to target Western countries.
DarkSide has already boasted that it has been paid millions of dollars in ransom from 80 companies across the US and Europe.
Colonial, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, has not yet said whether it has already paid or is negotiating a ransom with the hackers.
Gas prices have already begun to spike in the wake of the attack.
Futures for crude and fuel, prices that traders pay for contracts for delivery at some point in the future, typically begin to rise each year as the driving season approaches.
The price you pay at the gas pump tends to follow.
The average US price of regular-grade gasoline has jumped 6 cents over the past two weeks to $3.02 per gallon, which is $1.05 higher than it was a year ago.
The numbers from 2020 are slightly skewed given the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Experts warn the attack on Colonial Pipeline could exacerbate that upward pressure on prices if it goes unresolved for a period of time.
Cyber experts have already warned it has the potential to become a ‘real-world catastrophe’ the longer it stretches out and say it should serve as a wake-up call to companies about the vulnerabilities they face.
‘This could be the most impactful ransomware attack in history, a cyber disaster turning into a real-world catastrophe,’ Andrew Rubin, CEO and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Illumio told NBC News.
‘It’s an absolute nightmare, and it’s a recurring nightmare. Organizations continue to rely and invest entirely on detection, as if they can stop all breaches from happening. But this approach misses attacks over and over again. Before the next inevitable breach, the president and Congress need to take action on our broken security model.’
It is not yet clear how long the shut down is expected to last.
Colonial has not provided a timeline for a full restart of the 5,500 mile system, which moves more than 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel – supplying motorists and major airports.
DarkSide cultivates a Robin Hood image of stealing from corporations and giving a cut to charity.
In a statement following the Colonial attack, the group said their only goal was to ‘make money’
The American Automobile Association said on Monday that gas prices were already starting to spike: The national gas price average jumped six cents to $2.96.
The AAA warns it is only excepted to surge further as a result of the Colonial shutdown.
An increase of three more cents would make the national average the most expensive since November 2014.
‘This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally. Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the east coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases, as early as this week,’ an AAA spokesperson said.
‘These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.’
The fuel pipeline operator said on Sunday it had restarted some smaller lines between fuel terminals and customer delivery points but its main lines remained shut.
‘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.
Experts are saying that gasoline prices are unlikely to be significantly affected and there will not be a lasting impact if the pipeline is back to normal within five days.
If it lasts anywhere between six to 10 days, Wells Fargo analyst Roger Read warned gas prices will continue to spike along the East Coast and spot shortages will start in the Southeast.