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No End In Sight To U.S. Fuel Pipeline Shutdown After Cyber-Attack

Fuel suppliers are growing increasingly nervous about the possibility of gasoline and diesel shortages across the eastern U.S. almost two days after a cyberattack knocked out a massive pipeline. No End In Sight To U.S. Fuel Pipeline Shutdown After Cyberattack

Colonial Pipeline said Sunday that it was still developing a plan for restarting the nation’s largest fuel pipeline — a critical source of supply for the New York region — and would only bring it back when “safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations.” Gasoline futures surged by as much as 4.2% in early electronic trading on Sunday.

 

The attack comes just as the nation’s energy industry is preparing to meet stronger fuel demand from summer travel. Americans are once again commuting to the office, planning major travel for the first time and booking flights. A prolonged disruption along the pipeline system threatens to send average U.S. gasoline prices above $3 a gallon for the first time since October 2014, further stoking fears of inflation as commodity prices rally worldwide.

With little to no clarity over when the system will return, traders are seeking vessels to deliver gasoline that would have otherwise been shipped on the Colonial system, according to market participants who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Some tankers are being secured to temporarily store gasoline in the U.S. Gulf in the event of a prolonged shutdown, they said.

Colonial halted all operations on its system late Friday after suffering a ransomware attack that affected some of its IT systems.

Colonial is just the latest example of critical infrastructure being targeted by ransomware. Hackers are increasingly attempting to infiltrate essential services such as electric grids and hospitals. The escalating threats prompted the White House to respond last month with a plan to increase security at utilities and their suppliers. Pipelines are a specific concern because of the central role they play in the U.S. economy.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort right now,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said of federal government actions as the shutdown drags on. “We are working closely with the company, state and local officials to make sure that they get back up to normal operations as quickly as possible and there aren’t disruptions in supply.”

Colonial is a major source of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast from the nation’s refining belt along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has the capacity to send about 2.5 million barrels a day on its system from Houston as far as North Carolina, and another 900,000 barrels a day to New York.

The attack appeared to use a ransomware group called DarkSide, according to Allan Liska, senior threat analyst at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. The cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said its Mandiant incident response division was assisting with the investigation.

Extortion Fee

Ransomware cases involve hackers seeding networks with malicious software that encrypts the data and leaves the machines locked until the victims pay the extortion fee. This would be the biggest attack of its kind on a U.S. fuel pipeline.

The national gasoline average stood at $2.96 a gallon Friday, according to auto club AAA. With gasoline inventories ample, the pump price wasn’t expected to tick much higher until Memorial Day at the end of May, which is traditionally viewed as the start of the U.S. summer driving season. If the pipeline doesn’t restart soon it will accelerate the move higher.

“I think we’re at strong odds for it by Memorial Day given current trends,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at Gas Buddy.

A key concern at present is meeting product demand in the U.S. Southeast, which is especially dependent on the Colonial system, people familiar with the situation said. Drivers in landlocked and car-dependent Atlanta may be the first to feel the pinch at the pump.

“Atlanta will be one of the earlier sore spots, along with eastern Tennessee, and perhaps the Carolinas,” De Haan said.

The Northeast can secure gasoline shipments from Europe but it will come at an increasing cost the longer the pipeline stays shut.

“The longer it lasts, the more bullish it will be for refined products on the East Coast,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING Groep NV. “This will likely also drag European product prices higher, as we see more waterborne cargoes needing to go into the U.S. East Coast to meet the shortfall.”

Airports on the East Coast, which continue to have some of the steepest drops in air traffic due to the pandemic, have been operating smoothly Sunday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.

One potential route is the Kinder Morgan-operated Plantation Pipeline, even though it only extends as far north Washington D.C. and has a capacity of 720,000 barrels a day, far short of Colonial’s. Kinder said Sunday it’s working with customers to accommodate additional barrels during Colonial’s outage, and that Plantation is deferring where possible any non-essential maintenance that might otherwise reduce flow rates.

While all of the major segments of Colonial’s system remain offline, some smaller so-called laterals connecting specific fuel terminals to delivery points are in service, the company said. That laterals gave some traders hope that the full network may be back online within a week.

“Hopefully it is a sign that they have made progress either negotiating with those responsible for the attack or have found ways to operate around it, said Debnil Chowdhury, head of Americas refining at IHS Markit. “However to avoid product shortages, all efforts should be made to avoid a 5+ day outage of the main lines.”

Inventories offer minimal cover, ClearView Energy Partners said in a research note. Tankers leaving Rotterdam could take up to 14 days to make the trip to the New York Harbor. The Midwest could theoretically send some of its supplies to the East Coast via rail and barge, but the region’s inventories are tighter than in previous years, ClearView said.

“The Colonial outage comes at a critical juncture for the recovering U.S. economy: the start of the summer driving season,” ClearView said. “We therefore think lawmakers could begin a ‘blame game’ immediately, and a sustained disruption that leads to a significant pump price spike could increase prospects of domestic policy interventions.”

Bank of America Tech Chief Says Cyber Attacks Have Surged ‘Dramatically’

Bank of America Corp. is devoting more resources to fighting cyberattacks after seeing a jump in threats amid the pandemic.

The company’s centralized global information-security unit has boosted spending in recent years to about $1 billion annually, according to chief operations and technology officer Cathy Bessant. That’s mostly allocated to staff and technology to bolster cyber defenses. The lender is constantly assessing threats from individuals, groups and governments, and is also scanning the horizon to protect itself against an “Armageddon scenario,” she said.

“Criminals are by definition very crafty, very entrepreneurial — and times of stress produce opportunities,” Bessant told journalists during a virtual briefing Monday. “There’s no question that the rate and pace of attacks, and the nature of attacks, has grown dramatically.”

Banks, brokers, insurers and other finance companies have ramped up spending on cybersecurity for at least four years as services move online and attacks escalate. Cyber spending jumped 15% in 2020, according to a Deloitte & Touche LLP survey. That equates to almost $1 billion for each of the largest U.S. banks.

The pandemic accounted for some of that increase, forcing firms to bolster defenses as staff worked from home and as more customers embraced online products and services. About 64% of finance executives expect cybersecurity budgets to keep rising, a separate Deloitte survey showed.

Ransomware Attack Shuts Down Biggest U.S. Gasoline Pipeline

The operator of the biggest gasoline pipeline in the U.S. shut down operations late Friday following a ransomware attack that threatens to roil energy markets and upend the supply of gas and diesel to the East Coast.

Colonial Pipeline said in a statement Saturday that it “proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems.” It’s working to get business back to normal.

The cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said its Mandiant incident response division is assisting with the investigation. President Joe Biden, who’s spending the weekend at Camp David, was briefed on the incident Saturday morning, the White House said.

Colonial is a key artery for the eastern half of the U.S. It’s the main source of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for the East Coast with capacity of about 2.5 million barrels a day on its system from Houston as far as North Carolina, and another 900,000 barrels a day to New York.

The attack appeared to use a ransomware group called DarkSide, according to Allan Liska, senior threat analyst at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.

Hacking threats to critical infrastructure have been growing, prompting the White House to respond last month with a plan to try to increase the security of utilities and their suppliers. Pipelines are a specific concern because they play a central role in so many parts of the U.S. economy.

The latest attack comes as the nation’s energy industry gears up for summer travel and stronger fuel demand as pandemic economic restrictions are eased. It’s also an unpleasant reminder of how a cyber-attack brought down the communications systems of several U.S. natural gas pipelines operators in 2018.

The federal government is assessing the implications of the incident, including how to avoid disruptions to supply and help the company restore operations as quickly as possible, a White House spokesperson said.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it’s “monitoring any potential impacts” to supplies, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it’s in “communication with other federal agencies, and we are working closely with them to monitor developments” following the cyber-attack.

The federal government is also working with state and local authorities on potential additional steps.

Travel Time

When Colonial is running, fuel travels between three and five miles per hour through it. But a long-term shutdown could leave the Northwest more dependent on supplies delivered by tanker. And it could take those cargoes 10 to 14 days to make the voyage to the New York harbor, according to a research note from ClearView Energy Partners.

Other options, such as tapping an emergency federal stockpile of refined products in the Northeast, are “little more than a Band-Aid,” ClearView said. That gasoline supply reserve holds just 1 million barrels of gasoline in New York, Boston and Maine, the analysts noted.

Ransomware cases involve hackers seeding networks with malicious software that encrypts the data and leaves the machines locked until the victims pay the extortion fee, which can range from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Utilities’ information technology networks, which run email and other routine functions, and operational technology networks, which control the actual functioning of the delivery of electricity or natural gas, are typically kept mostly separate, which is what makes Colonial’s decision to temporarily shut down both so unusual.

An April 2 blog by the cybersecurity firm Cybereason said the people behind DarkSide follow the “double extortion” trend in ransomware, meaning they not only encrypt user data but exfiltrate it and make it public if a ransom payment isn’t made.

Many companies pay the fees and recover their data. But even when that occurs, they may shut down large parts of their networks as a precaution while they restore essential services and hunt for any signs that the hackers had accessed sensitive systems for other reasons including espionage or further destructive attacks.

Wide-Ranging Threat

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency is “engaged with the company and our interagency partners regarding the situation,” said Eric Goldstein, executive assistant director of CISA’s cybersecurity division. “This underscores the threat that ransomware poses to organizations regardless of size or sector,” he said.

Officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the U.S. had been left vulnerable by “an understaffed, under-prepared Transportation Security Administration.”

“We cannot ignore the longstanding inadequacies that allowed for, and enabled, cyber intrusions into our critical infrastructure,” Markey said in a statement.

GOP Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said the latest intrusion showed that an infrastructure spending package soon to be considered by Congress, should put “the hardening of critical infrastructure” front and center.

Technical Issues

Colonial gave an indication during Friday trading that it was having network issues, while two people familiar said they were having a hard time submitting refined product batches, updates or changes to batch deliveries and nominations using their Colonial Pipeline website access. The Colonial website went offline whenever the people tried.

At the time, Colonial staff informed customers by phone about the technical issues but didn’t say what was causing them.

The disruption could roil fuel markets Monday if it’s not fixed. The refining margin for a combined barrel of gasoline and diesel, the so-called 321 crack spread, rose 2% Friday after the Colonial interruption. Nymex gasoline futures rose 1.32 cents to settle at $2.1269 per gallon.

The main two Colonial lines out of the Houston refining hub — Lines 1 and 2 from Pasadena, Texas, to Greensboro, North Carolina — have not been full for months with U.S. fuel demand falling to its lowest in decades during the pandemic. That means fuel markets served by the line might be spared supply shortages.

The Colonial system is managed from suburban Atlanta and is jointly owned by Koch and several other energy and investor interests. East Coast fuel markets also are supplied by the Plantation pipeline jointly owned by Kinder Morgan and Exxon; East Coast refineries; and fuel shipments from Eastern Canada and Europe.

Updated: 5-11-2021

How A Key U.S. Pipeline Got Knocked Out by Hackers

One of the most important energy pipelines in the U.S. has been closed by a cyberattack. Colonial Pipeline — a critical source of supply for the New York region — was the victim of the biggest ransomware attack on a U.S. fuel pipeline and halted all operations on its system late Friday. It’s the latest such attack on U.S. critical infrastructure.

1. What Is Colonial Pipeline?

Founded in 1962, Colonial connects refineries primarily in the Gulf Coast with customers and markets throughout the southern and eastern U.S. through a pipeline system that spans more than 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers). Colonial says it transports about 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, providing refined products to more than 50 million Americans.

2. Which Types Of Fuel?

It is a major transporter of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, with the capacity to send about 2.5 million barrels a day from Houston as far as North Carolina, and another 900,000 barrels a day to New York. The company also supplies fuel to the U.S. military. The majority of the system is underground.

3. What Is Ransomware?

It’s a form of malicious software, “malware” for short, that essentially makes files and data stored on computers inaccessible, effectively holding a device hostage until a fee is paid to restore it to normal. If victims don’t pay, either they restore files from a backup or lose them forever. In many cases, hackers give victims a deadline — say 72 hours — after which the price doubles. If the targets refuse to pay, their computers will be permanently locked — a serious problem for people who haven’t backed up their data.

4. Who Carried Out This Attack?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation attributed the breach to ransomware created by a group called DarkSide. While the inquiry remains in its early stages, some evidence emerged linking DarkSide to Russia or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. President Joe Biden said Russia has “some responsibility” to address the attack but stopped short of blaming the Kremlin, saying “there’s evidence” the hackers or the software they used are “in Russia.” DarkSide first surfaced in August 2020, according to a blog postfrom the cybersecurity firm Cybereason, and uses the double extortion method in which it not only encrypts a victim’s data but exfiltrates it and threatens to make it public unless the ransom is paid.

5. Has This Happened Before?

Colonial is just the latest example. According to data compiled by Temple University, there were 396 ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure in 2020, up from 205 in 2019 and 70 in 2018. Hackers are increasingly attempting to infiltrate essential services such as electric grids and hospitals. The escalating threats prompted the White House to respond in April with a plan to increase security at utilities and their suppliers. Pipelines are a specific concern because of the central role they play in the U.S. economy.

6. Who Might Be Affected First By The Shutdown?

A key concern is meeting product demand in the U.S. southeast, which is especially dependent on the Colonial system, people familiar with the situation said. Drivers in landlocked and car-dependent Atlanta may be the first to feel the pinch at the pump. The Northeast can secure gasoline shipments from Europe but it will come at an increasing cost the longer the pipeline stays shut.

7. Is There An Alternative Route For The Fuels?

One potential way is the Kinder Morgan-operated Plantation Pipeline, even though it only extends as far north as Washington, D.C., and has a capacity of 720,000 barrels a day, far short of Colonial’s. And while all of the major segments of Colonial’s system remain offline, some smaller so-called laterals connecting specific fuel terminals to delivery points are in service. Meantime, President Biden has at his disposal an array of emergency powers that could help alleviate the pressure.

Updated: 5-11-2021

Hackers Find Easy Prey As U.S. Ignores One Warning After Another

The ransomware attack that shut down the nation’s biggest fuel pipeline prompted an all-too familiar question in the corridors of power in Washington and boardrooms across the country: Can anyone stop debilitating hacks?

The assault on Colonial Pipeline Co. last week was a particular affront. Not only did it disrupt fuel distribution on the East Coast, it followed an effort by the Biden administration to act against cyber crime — especially ransomware, where criminals remotely disable a computer system and demand payment. Colonial was hit on day 37 of a 60-day push by the Department of Homeland Security to confront such attacks.

The administration’s campaign is the latest in a long series of cyber strategies offered by presidents and lawmakers from both parties to curb hackers. For years, security experts have offered concrete recommendations for governments, companies and other organizations to follow to ward off cyber-attacks, but they’re often ignored, or punted in favor of more pressing concerns.

“There has to be a different way of approaching this if we are going to stop this plague,” said Philip Reiner, chief executive officer of the Institute for Security and Technology. Reiner’s group recently offered 48 actions the Biden administration and the private sector could pursue against ransomware.

The Colonial pipeline was idled for the third consecutive day on Monday, as fuel suppliers increasingly worry about the possibility of gasoline and diesel shortages along the U.S. East Coast. The company said Monday it expects the pipeline to be “substantially” back in operations by the end of the week.

While President Joe Biden recently imposed sanctions on Russia over the hack of SolarWinds Corp., the threat of retaliation or prosecution from the U.S. holds little deterrence — at least so far. Many criminal hackers reside in countries that ignore them or tacitly approve of their behavior. Actions to punish state-sponsored hacking groups — including sanctions and indictments — have previously done little to counter the assaults.

The list of recent cyber-attack targets reflects both the sophistication and brazenness of the hackers. In government, the victims include the Department of Homeland Security, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, even the Washington, D.C., police department. In the private sector, hackers infiltrated big tech companies like Microsoft Corp., the cyber-security firm FireEye Inc., San Diego-based Scripps Health and even the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association.

While Homeland Security advises critical infrastructure operators on risk management, private industry is still responsible for securing its own networks. The result is uneven protection: Some companies, including major banks, have invested heavily in cyber-security.

But many others have followed a pattern of ignoring or minimizing the need for safeguards, which can be costly and easy to defer.

Recent cyber-attacks against Twitter Inc., and SolarWinds, occurred after security employees warned about weaknesses in the companies’ defenses.

Preventing A ‘Cyber 9/11’

The problem is particularly troubling for companies that operate critical infrastructure.

Initiatives to enhance the security of the operational controls used to run the U.S. electrical grid and other energy infrastructure are years behind better-known efforts to shield data centers and corporate systems, experts say.

In the federal government, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office alone has issued some 3,300 recommendations since 2010 for agencies to address vulnerabilities, yet at least 750 had not been implemented by the end of last year.

“Although the federal government has made selected improvements, it needs to move with a greater sense of urgency commensurate with the rapidly evolving and grave threats to the country,” the GAO warned in March.

In 2019, Congress created a special group — called the Cyberspace Solarium Commission — specifically to come up with a better, more comprehensive plan to fight back against major hacks. The commission made 52 legislative recommendations in a report last March; Congress has enacted 25 of them so far; roughly 10 of 30 non-legislative recommendations have been implemented.

“The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was envisioned to be ‘the 9/11 commission that averts a cyber-9/11,’” the commission’s co-chairs, Senator Angus King, Independent of Maine, and Representative Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, said in a statement after the Colonial breach.

“One of the gravest lessons from the terrorist attack 20 years ago was that it was a failure of imagination,” they said. “America can and must be better –- we must be imaginative, and proactive, in navigating the threats of the age of cyber aggression.”

Divided Congress

In the aftermath of the Colonial Pipeline attack, Biden and a bitterly divided Congress will be under pressure to mandate greater disclosure of breaches and costly network protections that have been thwarted in the past.

“My administration takes this very seriously,” Biden said Monday, as he committed to “a global effort” to combat ransomware attacks, including criminal prosecutions and efforts to disrupt money-laundering operations associated with the hackers.

The White House had already moved to strengthen collaboration between U.S. national security agencies and power utilities, with a plan for rolling out better technology to detect hacks of industrial control systems that run the nation’s power systems.

The administration is also finalizing an executive order that would set basic cyber-security standards for the federal government, including multifactor authentication of users.

There’s widespread consensus that better coordination between the government and private industry is needed to bolster the nation’s cyber defenses. But it isn’t as easy as it seems.

A major challenge is simply sharing information. The federal government itself is limited in how much it can tell companies about potential threats, and industry leaders have complained they are too often left in the dark.

Despite years of hand wringing about the need for government and companies to better collaborate, “it has yet to really occur,” said Mike McKenna, a former senior White House official with energy and cyber-security clients.

Coordination Deficit

“The industry tends to be impaired because it does not have real-time access to what the government knows, and government tends to be impaired because, with a very few exceptions, they don’t actually have cyber-security capabilities,” McKenna said.

Companies face numerous obstacles to revealing their own breaches — including fears that they will be slapped with shareholder lawsuits if they disclose an attack too soon. But rapidly informing regulators about possible breaches and the digital fingerprints hackers have left behind can be critical to identifying and preventing other intrusions.

“There are still potential risks that companies take in sharing the information,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former Homeland Security official who now is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

One option for Congress is removing some legal liability, which could encourage companies to swiftly disclose cyber attacks.

But if Congress goes too far to shield companies, it could remove pressure for them to harden their defenses, Spaulding said.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Spaulding said. “It’s hard, finding that right formula for maintaining the incentive to do the right thing while figuring out how to incentivize them to share the information.”

James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said people generally don’t take the risk of a cyber-attack as incentive enough to take action.

“We’ve been wrestling with this thing for a decade or so now, and the answer is, market forces alone aren’t going to push people to do the right thing,” he said.

“We’ve learned the hard way that there are some basics that make it very hard to get hacked,” Lewis said. “Most people don’t do it.”

Colonial Pipeline Shutdown Threatens To Magnify Gasoline-Price Surge

Cyberattack disrupts largest U.S. fuel conduit as more drivers are preparing to travel after getting coronavirus vaccines.

The cyberattack that forced the closure of the top U.S. fuel pipeline threatens to disrupt gasoline supplies for millions, as the conduit’s owner estimated Monday that restoring service would take at least through week’s end.

The new timeline for the Colonial Pipeline, a 5,500-mile system from Texas to New Jersey, came as the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it believed the attack involved a criminal gang with Eastern European ties known as DarkSide.

Colonial Pipeline Co. said Monday it hoped to substantially restore service on the pipeline, which it shut Friday, by the end of this week.

The Colonial Pipeline transports about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to the company’s website. The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company said that restoring its network, in coordination with the Energy Department and other federal agencies, will take time, and that it was bringing segments back online in stages.

DarkSide created the malicious code that resulted in the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown, FBI officials said Monday. The organization is a relatively new hacking group that Western security researchers say is likely based in Eastern Europe, possibly in Russia.

The group posted a statement earlier Monday claiming that its sole goal was to make money and denied it was connected to a foreign government. It didn’t mention the Colonial Pipeline or how much money was being demanded.

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics,” the group said in the statement.

The Biden administration issued an emergency waiver extending hours for truck drivers delivering fuel across 17 states, including several across the southeastern U.S. that depend on the pipeline for much of the fuel they consume.

President Biden said Monday that he is prepared to take additional action, depending on how much time is needed for the pipeline to resume operations. He said ransomware was a growing problem in need of a global response and that more investment in critical infrastructure was necessary to safeguard critical systems from debilitating cyberattacks.

Mr. Biden and others said the Russian government didn’t appear to have a hand in the attack, but he criticized Moscow for tolerating criminal hackers within its borders.

“So far, there is no evidence from our intelligence people that Russia is involved,” Mr. Biden said. “Although there is some evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this.”

Energy markets were volatile in response to the pipeline disruptions. Gasoline futures in New York ended the day up 0.3% at $2.13 a gallon, after they had advanced as much as 4.2% in overnight trading. But analysts said prices for gasoline, particularly spot prices in regions affected by the closure, could continue to rise if the pipeline isn’t back in service in a few more days.

Gasoline prices have been surging, pushing up the national average price of a gallon of regular, unleaded gas to $2.96 a gallon, according to the AAA. That national average could soon pierce $2.99 and hit a 6 ½ year high. Gasoline prices could rise 3 cents to 7 cents a gallon this week in affected areas such as Mississippi, Tennessee and East Coast states from Georgia to Delaware, the automobile association estimated.

Even a roughly weeklong delay could reduce the amount of fuel held in stockpiles. That would likely amplify pressure on consumers at the pump, with demand set to rise in the coming weeks as more motorists travel after receiving coronavirus vaccines, said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA.

“That’s still significant enough to make a difference,” he said. “This just shows how fragile the situation is.”

“Every hour counts at this point as we get closer and closer to Memorial Day weekend,” he added.

Some consumers were bracing for continued fuel-price increases, which come as prices also surge for items as diverse as food and appliances.

“Gas is so volatile to begin with that adding another factor is just another aggravation,” said Matt Jackson, a 40-year-old judicial aide and paralegal student in Philadelphia who travels 10 miles every business day to and from the court building where he works.

Mr. Jackson noticed that a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline cost more than $3 on his drive home Monday afternoon and was bracing for prices to continue rising ahead of a planned Memorial Day trip to the New Jersey shore.

“I’m just going to watch it more closely,” he said.

Southeastern states from Alabama to Maryland could experience sporadic outages and a scramble for fuel supplies later this week. Limited fuel supplies in Tennessee are particularly concerning, as the state is highly dependent on the pipeline, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service, or OPIS, an IHS Markit company.

Gasoline futures prices have surged and are up more than 50% in 2021.

“This is happening at the worst time heading into the summer and also to the most vulnerable area,” said Michael Tran, managing director for global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets. The East Coast is the least energy-secure U.S. region because of the dearth of refineries there, he said.

Traders were preparing for a rise in European fuel exports to the U.S. Shipments from the continent have tended to rise after similar disruptions, including a 2016 Colonial Pipeline shutdown following a leak. Weekly Wednesday government updates on U.S. energy stockpiles, imports and exports will now be in even greater focus, analysts said.

The cybersecurity recovery for the Colonial Pipeline could take a few more days, and possibly longer, said Marc Ayala, a director of industrial-control system security at consulting firm 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell in Houston.

“Given the breadth of the unknowns, the discovery, containment, decontamination and remediation effort will be lengthy and likely result in a gradual return to operations,” Mr. Ayala said.

Updated: 5-16-2021

Bitcoin Wallet Used By DarkSide For Ransom Payments ID’d By Elliptic

Since becoming active, the wallet has received bitcoin transactions totaling $17.5 million, the data analysis firm said.

The wallet used by the DarkSide ransomware group to receive bitcoin ransom payments has been identified, according to data analysis firm Elliptic, citing intelligence collection and analysis of blockchain transactions.

* The wallet received the 75 BTC payment reportedly made by Colonial Pipeline on May 8, following the cyberattack that led to widespread fuel shortages in the U.S., Elliptic said in its report.

* The wallet has been active since early March and has received 57 payments from 21 different wallets, including some matching ransoms known to have been paid to the group in other cases of blackmail, the firm said.

* Since becoming active, the wallet has received bitcoin transactions totaling $17.5 million, Elliptic said.

* Elliptic also said it has been able to gain intel on how DarkSide laundered prior attacks, potentially allowing authorities to locate the people behind them.

* Earlier Friday, KrebsOnSecurity and others reported that the DarkSide group has decided to shut itself down after its own servers were seized and someone drained crypto from an account belonging to the group.

Updated: 5-16-2021

Bitcoin Wallet Used By DarkSide For Ransom Payments ID’d By Elliptic

Since becoming active, the wallet has received bitcoin transactions totaling $17.5 million, the data analysis firm said.

The wallet used by the DarkSide ransomware group to receive bitcoin ransom payments has been identified, according to data analysis firm Elliptic, citing intelligence collection and analysis of blockchain transactions.

* The wallet received the 75 BTC payment reportedly made by Colonial Pipeline on May 8, following the cyberattack that led to widespread fuel shortages in the U.S., Elliptic said in its report.

* The wallet has been active since early March and has received 57 payments from 21 different wallets, including some matching ransoms known to have been paid to the group in other cases of blackmail, the firm said.

* Since becoming active, the wallet has received bitcoin transactions totaling $17.5 million, Elliptic said.

* Elliptic also said it has been able to gain intel on how DarkSide laundered prior attacks, potentially allowing authorities to locate the people behind them.

* Earlier Friday, KrebsOnSecurity and others reported that the DarkSide group has decided to shut itself down after its own servers were seized and someone drained crypto from an account belonging to the group.

Updated: 5-16-2021

Pipeline Attack Stirs Debate on Whether Insurance Lures Hackers

The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline Co. that caused gasoline shortages along the U.S. East Coast also sparked a debate about whether cyber insurance helps protect against marauders — or attracts them.

Some cyber-security experts say hackers target companies that have coverage, because they know the firms can pay ransoms. But others believe the blame is misplaced and that insurers, if anything, have raised the bar on cybersecurity.

“Ransomware actors are in it for the money so if they know a target is insured, they may go after that target,” said Chris Painter, president of the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise and former cyber coordinator at the U.S. State Department.

“On the other hand, underwriting standards for insurance often contain requirements that incentivize their insureds to be better at cybersecurity and hopefully prevent some of these attacks.”

Attacks have been on the rise. Cyber-security firm Emsisoft sees a roughly 12.4% jump in victims saying they were hit last year, compared with 2019. The amount of ransom being demanded nearly doubled in 2020, according to Group-IB.

“Ransomware has been sharply escalating in its frequency and the amount of demands being asked,” said Matthew McCabe, a senior vice president in the cyber practice at Marsh McLennan. “Cyber attacks are increasing in their sophistication and organization. Ransomware gangs have been at this for a while now and, as with any enterprise, they get better at it as they go along.”

Meanwhile, the cyber-insurance market has been growing. Premiums for standalone cyber policies were up 28% in 2020 compared to a year earlier and have increased about 76% since 2016, according to ratings firm AM Best. But not every company is buying coverage. Just 47% of insurance broker Marsh’s clients in the U.S. purchased standalone cyber policies, up from 42% in 2019, the firm said.

Having that insurance can put a target on a company’s back, according to Analyst1’s chief security strategist, Jon DiMaggio. He cited a 2021 report from Cisco Talos that quoted an attacker saying a ransom payment was all but guaranteed if the target has insurance.

Some disagree. Joshua Motta, co-founder and chief executive officer of cyber insurer Coalition, and Adam Lantrip of insurance broker CAC Specialty said system vulnerabilities are more to blame.

“I don’t think it’s as binary of a process of saying, ‘This company buys cyber insurance and so I’m going to go after them,’ ” said Lantrip, the cyber practice leader at CAC.

“When we talk to security firms and people who do threat intelligence, they typically will say it’s more likely the case that the attackers are looking at who is showing the world a particular piece of technology that they know they can exploit. That’s how they narrow their target list.”

Coalition’s Motta said ransom payments are often the only way to respond to attackers.

“At least 50% of the time there’s not really an option,” he said. “Not only have they encrypted the data, they’ve encrypted the backups and there’s no way to recover without paying the ransom.”

Motta argues that insurers are helping the industry by raising the level of cybersecurity due diligence by firms. And those efforts redouble after a high-profile incident like Colonial’s, according to Adam O’Donnell, a cybersecurity expert at Internet 2.0.

“I’ve seen a lot of organizations where their self-assessment maturity is very high, and then a very basic cyber attack proves that they’re completely wrong,” O’Donnell said.

Insurers have responded to the surge in attacks by ramping up scrutiny of new clients and their efforts to protect data, according to Marsh’s McCabe. Axa SA’s France business is no longer underwriting new policies that reimburse for ransomware, according to a spokesperson.

Other insurers have sought to cap their exposure, according to CAC’s Lantrip.

For now, the question of how to stop the cycle of ransomware attacks and payments remains.

“You have to go after the money,” Coalition’s Motta said. “Some of these threat actors bring in more haul than international drug cartels.”

Updated: 5-27-2021

Colonial Pipeline Missed Requested Security Review Before Hack

Company was scheduling a federal cyber assessment when attackers struck.

Colonial Pipeline Co. last year didn’t undergo a requested federal security review of its facilities and was in the process of scheduling a separate audit of its computer networks when hackers hit on May 7.

The ransomware attack led to a six-day shutdown of the East Coast’s largest conduit for fuel, sparking scrutiny of pipeline security and pushing the Department of Homeland Security to prepare to issue first-of-their-kind cybersecurity regulations for the sector.

It is unclear if an assessment by the Transportation Security Administration, a division of DHS that oversees pipeline security, would have uncovered digital weak points exploited in a hack that U.S. officials attributed to a criminal group known as DarkSide.

A Colonial spokesman said the company offered to undergo a virtual review of its facilities, rather than a typical in-person audit, when TSA officials requested the security check last year. The company had protocols in place at the time to limit employees’ exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Many pipeline operators similarly restricted TSA officials’ access during the pandemic, an agency spokeswoman said.

“There is no virtual substitute for this review, as it requires physical review of critical pipeline components,” she said. “Postponed reviews are being rescheduled as those [companies’] restrictions lift.”

Colonial has been in contact with TSA officials since March for a separate assessment of its networks, the spokesman said, adding that the company aims to accommodate that request after it has fully recovered its computer systems and completed an investigation of the recent hack.

Officials from Colonial and the TSA have discussed last year’s missed security review in a series of briefings in recent weeks with the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, according to people familiar with the matter.

Colonial Chief Executive Joseph Blount, who told The Wall Street Journal last week that he decided to pay hackers a roughly $4.4 million ransom to help restore the company’s computer systems, is slated to testify before the committee on June 9.

Some lawmakers and cybersecurity experts criticized pipeline security standards after the Colonial hack, as many drivers panic-bought gasoline and caused supply shortages in some areas along the East Coast.

While electric utilities face federal cyber requirements, mandatory audits and potential seven-figure fines for violations, regulators have taken a hands-off approach to pipelines and allow companies to set many of the terms of their own oversight.

Some cyber experts say the voluntary compliance has contributed to uneven security investments by pipeline companies, which have digitized more of their systems in recent years to improve efficiency.

The fallout from the Colonial hack has spurred regulators into action.

DHS officials this week said the department is preparing to issue cyber regulations for the pipeline sector in the hope of preventing such attacks. The pending rules would require pipeline companies to report when they are targeted by hackers and to bolster their security measures, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The regulations come alongside efforts by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to counter the growing threat of ransomware across the U.S. economy.

“The Biden administration is taking further action to better secure our nation’s critical infrastructure,” a DHS spokeswoman said Tuesday. “TSA, in close collaboration with CISA, is coordinating with companies in the pipeline sector to ensure they are taking all necessary steps to increase their resilience to cyber threats and secure their systems.”

TSA has guidelines for how companies can tighten access to their systems, improve visibility of potential threats and respond to incidents. Officials with the agency’s pipeline security branch also conduct voluntary reviews of corporate security policies and on-site assessments of facilities that companies deem critical.

The Colonial spokesman said the TSA in 2018 completed security assessments that included three facility reviews and an audit of its security policies.

The TSA team that oversees such work has lacked sufficient cybersecurity expertise and staff for much of the past decade, according to a 2019 Government Accountability Office report. That has hampered pipeline security oversight, the watchdog said, adding that the TSA reviewed corporate security policies of fewer than 10 of the country’s 100 most critical pipeline systems annually from 2013 to 2017.

A TSA spokeswoman said earlier this month that the agency has expanded its pipeline security branch to the equivalent of 34 full-time staffers, up from six in 2018.

Updated: 6-8-2021

US Officials Recover $2.3M In Crypto From Colonial Pipeline Ransom

Government officials did not specify the exact method used to seize the funds from the ransomware group.

Officials with a United States government task force have seized more than $2 million in crypto used to pay for ransom following an attack on the Colonial Pipeline system.

In a Monday press conference, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that the task force “found and recaptured” millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin (BTC) connected to Russia-based DarkSide hackers — the majority of the $4.4 million funds originally paid. A warrant filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California shows that authorities recovered 63.7 BTC, worth roughly $2.3 million at the time.

Monaco said this action was the first major operation in the task force’s mission to investigate, disrupt and prosecute ransomware attacks:

“Today, we turned the tables on DarkSide. […] By going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks, including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency, we will continue to use all of our tools and all of our resources to increase the cost and the consequences of ransomware attacks.”

DarkSide’s attack on the major pipeline last month caused fuel shortages for many people in the United States. Monaco said the company quickly notified authorities of the problem and ransom demand, leading to the task force’s involvement.

In the same press conference, FBI Deputy Associate Director Paul Abatte said officials seized the funds from a BTC wallet used to pay the ransom for the cyberattack. However, at the time of publication, the method used to recover the crypto funds is unclear. A CNN report said that officials could have identified DarkSide as the ones responsible and used their network to trace the funds soon after the attack, but this method has had mixed success with ransomware groups.

 

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