Washington, May 9 (EFE).- Due to a cyberattack, Colonial Pipeline, the largest US oil pipeline network – which transports about 45 percent of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast – was forced to halt operations over 5,500 miles of pipeline.
The ransomware attack by hackers blocked access to the company’s computers and the cyberpirates are demanding money in exchange for releasing the computers.
In a statement, the firm revealed that it had had to suspend all fuel shipment operations on Friday.
Colonial has not revealed who might be behind the attack, although cybersecurity experts point to “DarkSide,” a group based in Eastern Europe, as a potential suspect.
The pipeline firm, based in the state of Georgia, said that it is working diligently to resolve the matter and minimize fuel supply interruptions to its customers.
At present, fuel shipment remains paralyzed along some 5,500 miles of Colonial’s pipeline.
The firm transports up to 2.5 million barrels of gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation fuel from refineries near the Gulf of Mexico to major population centers in the southern and eastern US.
Colonial operations are vital for ensuring that the US East Coast has enough fuel for day-to-day consumption, given that the firm supplies some 45 percent of the fuel to that region, according to its Web site.
To restore service, Colonial said that it had hired an important cybersecurity firm and is cooperating with US government agencies.
Colonial did not reveal the name of the cybersecurity firm, but US media are pointing to FireEye, one of the biggest US cybersecurity companies, which provides services to both the business community and to various governments.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden was informed of the incident, according to a White House spokesman, who added that US cybersecurity agencies are doing everything possible to help Colonial quickly reestablish its fuel shipment operations.
The company has not provided any details about how long it anticipates that its pipelines will be shut down or how much money the cyberpirates are demanding in exchange for unlocking the firm’s computers.
According to Coveware, another cybersecurity firm, last year, the victims of ransomware had to pay an average of $310,000 to unblock their frozen computer systems.
This is one of the largest ransomware attacks ever made public in the US.
Some lawmakers have called for better regulation to protect the country’s energy infrastructure and have expressed concern about the impact this attack could have on fuel prices.
For the moment, however, the impact on fuel prices has been minimal, with a rise of just 1 percent being noted in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel on the futures markets.
The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the consumption of fuel, mainly because of a decline in transport activities, and – if Colonial manages to restore its service quickly – the total impact of the ransomware attack on fuel prices could be relatively small.
However, if the interruption lasts for more than a few days, the negative effects could mount up, and fuel prices could rise in the US southeast, according to the US Automobile Association.