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Cyberattack Shuts Down Major US Fuel Pipeline

    2021-5-10

    A major U.S. fuel pipeline remains largely shut down Monday after a cyberattack caused service to be suspended.

    The incident, reported Friday, led to the shutdown of a main fuel line operated by Colonial Pipeline, a company based in Georgia. The pipeline carries gasoline and other fuel from Texas to the U.S. Northeast. The company says it supplies about 45 percent of all the fuel used on the U.S. East Coast.

    Some are considering the cyberattack the most damaging so far against important U.S. infrastructure.

    In this Sept. 8, 2008 file photo, traffic on I-95 passes oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
    In this Sept. 8, 2008 file photo, traffic on I-95 passes oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

    Colonial said Monday it hopes to have most of its fuel transportation system running again by the end of the week. The company is in the process of restarting its network, which transports over 2.5 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel each day.

    The company says it was hit by a ransomware attack. In such attacks, online attackers infect the computer systems of organizations and hijack information in a way that leaves it unreadable. The attacker then demands payment in exchange for returning the information to a readable state.

    Law enforcement agencies are investigating the incident. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said Monday the attack was carried out by a criminal group known as DarkSide.

    A news release issued Monday in the name of DarkSide stated its purpose, but did not name Colonial Pipeline, Reuters news agency reported. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society,” the group said.

    Cybersecurity experts who have studied DarkSide say the group appears to be made up of experienced cybercriminals who aim to get as much money as they can from their targets. "They're very new but they're very organized," said Lior Div, chief of Cybereason, a security company based in Boston.

    DarkSide claims it does not attack hospitals, nursing homes or educational or government targets. It says it donates part of the money it receives to charity. Like most other major ransomware groups, it is known to avoid targeting organizations in former Soviet bloc nations. This suggests a link to former Soviet republics.

    The administration of President Joe Biden said it has made restarting the fuel network a top goal. The administration said it is working with several agencies on plans to avoid severe fuel disruptions.

    If a shutdown continues, fuel suppliers would need to use trucks and trains to transport fuel. The Department of Transportation announced emergency measures Sunday to keep deliveries moving. The agency lifted driver restrictions on fuel transporters in 17 states affected by the shutdown.

    Experts said gasoline prices are not likely to be affected if the pipeline is able to restart operations in the next few days. But they said the incident should raise awareness of the serious threats companies can face.

    David Kennedy established TrustedSec, a company that helps organizations prepare for and fight cyberattacks. He told the AP that once a ransomware attack is discovered, companies have few choices. They can either completely rebuild their infrastructure or pay the amount of money being demanded.

    “Ransomware is absolutely out of control and one of the biggest threats we face as a nation,” Kennedy said. “The problem we face is most companies are grossly underprepared to face these threats.”

    I’m Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    cyberattackn. an attempt by attackers to damage or destroy a computer network or system

    disruption n. an interruption that stops something from continuing as it should

    charityn. an official organization that gives money, food or other assistance to people in need

    infrastructure n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country or region

    absolute adj. complete

    grossly adv. extremely