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When Companies Are Held For Ransom…

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On May 7th, the company Colonial Pipeline fell victim to one of the largest cyberattacks on any U.S energy company.

The pipeline is one of the country’s largest and carries 2.5 million barrels of gasoline and fuel a day. It provides half of the East Coast’s energy supply, and the attack led to gas shortages and an increase in prices. 

It took almost a week for the company to slowly return to normal operations. The culprit was a hacking group based in Eastern Europe called DarkSide, and as it turns out, Colonial Pipeline had to pay $4.4 million in ransom in bitcoins! 

The Rise Of Ransomware

Ransomware is a kind of cyberattack where hackers use malware (malicious software) to lock companies out of their computer systems. The malware could be embedded in anything from a seemingly innocent link to a believable email. 

The attackers turn off access to content, making it hard for companies, hospitals, or cities to function normally. Often, they threaten to reveal sensitive information until they are paid a ransom. They may even give a sample of the kinds of sensitive data they plan to release. And with the recent pandemic and people logging in from their homes, companies have been more vulnerable to attacks.

Hackers like DarkSide function like an organization — they share their code with small hackers in return for a cut of the ransom! DarkSide even has a website where it proudly displays the companies attacked and the ones they consider “unethical” to attack.

The rise of companies like DarkSide has also created a category of people known as ransomware hunters. These hunters try to find flaws in the attacker’s code and help companies who have been hacked and held up for a ransom. 

Hacking A Pipeline?

It is hard to imagine how a physical oil-carrying pipeline could ever be hacked, but surprisingly, many of its operations run digitally.

Pipelines use devices such as pressure sensors and valves and pumps to regulate the transport of energy such as diesel and petrol. The Colonial Pipeline even uses a special smart pipeline inspection gauge robot that runs through pipes to check for irregularities.

Under “pressure” from the United States, DarkSide announced it was shutting down. DarkSide also posted a statement that seemed like an apology for the hack saying: “Our goal is to make money and not create problems for society”.

The cyberattack has once again revealed the risks that ransomware could pose to national systems. 

Sources: Vox, NY Times, BBC, Technology review

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