What to know about the colonial oil pipeline hack and how it might impact your business

DarkSide is claiming victory as the culprit behind the recent Colonial Pipeline hack, which shut down the major oil pipeline over the weekend. Some gas stations in Virginia and North Carolina have already run out of gas.

In what might be a glimpse into the future of how international “war” is conducted, the Eastern European group was able to disrupt the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies the majority of oil for east coast airlines, with a massive ransomware attack

However, they claim their motives are not political but instead financially driven. In a statement on their website, the group said, “We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives.” 

They described their “Code of Ethics” in who they attack and claim never to attack hospitals, schools, and nonprofit entities. Cybereason, a Boston-based defense platform, knows DarkSide well, even if they’re relatively new. The hackers gather intelligence, do their homework on companies and their management, and then implement an attack. 

All of which leads to this: What does this mean for the future and other businesses?

What this could mean for other businesses and everyday people

Whether you work in the oil sector or not, this type of security breach could be a sign of what’s to come in the future. 

The Colonial Pipeline is no small business. Responsible for over half of all airline fuel to major airports, including the Atlanta airport, and nearly 45% of daily automobile fuel needs of the 50 million people by the Nation’s capital, this was a huge attack. 

DarkSide’s ransomware – which they double in selling – is the type of critical attack to infrastructure that sends red flags out across the world. For starters, day-to-day necessities can be impacted;

  • Impact on supply and demand for fuel
  • Raising fuel prices coupled with summer travel, fuel could approach $4.00 per gallon.
  • Potential job loss and economic impact 

The White House has already called for a state of emergency for 17 states.  All for an oil pipeline that was shut down for less than seven days. 

With the pipeline expected to be up and running by the weekend, we have to ask ourselves, “What if the attack had effects that lasted weeks or even months?”

Longer downtimes could mean an impact for everyone in the continental United States. Rockford Weitz, Director of the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program, put it this way: 

“This is a reminder that U.S. companies and networks can be attacked at any time with real-world impacts.”

And while DarkSide is claiming this is purely a case of financial reasons – though they look at their attacks on English-speaking for-profit companies in a savior complex – in reality, it is an act of extortion. 

Do companies pay extortion fees?

Screwing up day-to-day lives is bad enough; extorting companies for money is equally as bad.  

Whether the ransom is $50,000 or $5,000,000, the DarkSide attack on the Colonial Pipeline and the subsequent demands for cash leads to an interesting dilemma: who pays and should they pay?

After this attack and the SolarWinds attack, one might think these hacking attacks are only reserved for critical infrastructure companies – but that isn’t the case. DarkSide promotes and sells its ransomware, and lower-level syndicates and criminals organizations can use this. 

American-based or not, small criminal enterprises can conduct similar attacks on businesses and wipe out records, impact the ability to conduct commerce, and expose data with a few clicks on the computer. These criminals may not have the capability to attack billion-dollar oil companies, but they could easily extort small business owners. 

And while these attacks may not be physical, they can manifest themselves in how businesses conduct business and who normal people live their daily lives!

The verdict

The vulnerability of the nation’s cybersecurity was exposed. It should serve as a wake-up call for the United States and every business owner and citizen out there.

While the White House and Department of Transportation are taking the attack seriously and making mitigation plans, the logical next step for everyday business owners is to protect themselves. 

Having paper copies of records and contacts, payroll sheets, tax information, proposals, and so on might not be a bad idea.

While it could be unlikely that you get attacked and extorted for money by a criminal hacking group, the signs point to these types of events occurring more and more in the future.