Early in May, as the country was reopening and the Southeast was heating up ahead of summer, a hacking group called DarkSide enacted an attack against Colonial Pipeline. The attack used ransomware, a type of software that encrypts all of the data on a private network and locks it behind a ransom. The group froze Colonial Pipeline out of their own system and demanded a huge payment to allow them to access their pipeline controls.
This froze the flow of oil to the Southeast region, causing a sudden rush of people to the gas pump. The majority of people in the region just filled up their tanks, but a few panicked residents filled numerous jerricans with gas and hoarded huge amounts of fuel. This caused a steep increase in the price of gas in the region, with some areas seeing gas over $3 per gallon.
The Colonial Pipeline was restored to full operation after only a few days of downtime, but it was an eye-opening experience for many. Now there are tons of Americans calling on the government to do more to protect the US’s infrastructure. DarkSide, the hacking group behind the attack, is based in Eastern Europe, making it difficult to bring charges against them unless the US is able to extradite them to stand trial. Such a situation seems unlikely.
Many in the US are already relying on oil changing coupons and using sites like Gas Buddy to keep their recurring costs for their vehicles down. Short of switching to a fully electric vehicle, it seems unlikely that the average person can do much to control how much they’re spending on gas. What can the government do?
Tomorrow’s battles won’t just be fought by armies, they’ll be fought over the internet. It’s easy for a malignant actor in a foreign country to hack into the US infrastructure at present because many US institutions haven’t shored up their cybersecurity. This is an area the federal government could focus on more to help bulk up the defenses the country has against serious external threats to the infrastructure.
It’s not hard to imagine a situation where even more sensitive systems are breached by internet hacking attacks. We were lucky this time that the pipeline was brought back online quickly. What if we’re not as lucky next time? How will people react if gasoline becomes as rare as gold in the US? Such a situation could become a reality unless we focus on cybersecurity today.