The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is potentially one of the worst cyberattacks to have happened this decade. A hacker group known as DarkSide stole nearly 100GB of data from the Colonial Pipeline servers before locking them down and demanding a ransom. Colonial Pipeline, with the assistance of FBI, paid around 5 million dollars to recover its systems.
And it didn’t stop there.
The decryption tool provided by the hacker group was so slow that Colonial Pipeline had to use its own backups to get its systems back online. It cost Colonial Pipeline even more than the ransom, probably tens of millions of dollars, to restore its systems completely.
So, what is Colonial Pipeline and how did this all start?
What is Colonial Pipeline?
Colonial Pipeline operates the largest gas pipeline system in the United States.
Its services extend over 5,500 miles stretching from Texas to New Jersey.
It transports around 100 million gallons of fuel per day including gasoline, diesel, and heating oil.
Seven airports get their jet fuel directly from Colonial Pipeline.
Nearly 45% of USA’s east coast including New York, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas get their fuel from Colonial Pipeline.
How did the ransomware attack happen?
One leaked password.
Yes, you read that right. The attack vector was a single leaked password to an active VPN account that was no longer in use. Since multi-factor authentication was not enforced, the hackers only needed the username and the breached password to infiltrate Colonial Pipeline’s network.
Following the ransomware attack, Colonial Pipeline took its systems offline to contain the threat. This, in turn, led to panic-buying, shortages, and the highest spike in fuel prices since 2014.
FBI- and CISA-recommended strategies to prevent ransomware attacks
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How the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack happened.
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