The Cyberattack That Started a Self-Inflicted Gasoline Supply Shortage
The recent ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline created a chain reaction that led to consumers creating the gas shortage they were attempting to prepare against – here’s how it went down.
On May 7, Colonial Pipeline announced that in the wake of disruptions it was shutting down 5,500 miles of pipeline (about 45% of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply), and soon after said its corporate computer networks had been hit by a ransomware attack by a criminal group called Darkside.
Experts have pointed to this attack as an example of the vulnerability of aging infrastructure that’s connected to the internet. According to Bloomberg, Colonial paid nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency to the hacking group.
But as word got out, panic spread among consumers that in shutting down the pipeline, the fuel supply chain interruption would cause a shortage. Rather than simply wait for the pipeline to restore service (which it had by May 13), many flocked to the pumps to hoard as much fuel as they could. This self-inflicted wound created long lines as they filled up extra gas cans, large storage tanks, and in a few highly ill-advised cases, plastic storage bins and grocery bags – which led the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue this succinct warning:
“Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline.”
On the upside, the incident has led President Joe Biden to sign an executive order focused on strengthening U.S. cybersecurity defenses. It calls for the federal government and private sector to partner to confront “persistent and increasingly sophisticated malicious cyber campaigns” that threaten U.S. security.