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U.S. pipeline hackers say their aim is cash, not chaos

CommoditiesMay 10, 2021 06:15PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has shut its entire network after a cyber attack, the company said on 2/2

By Raphael Satter and Joseph Menn

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -The ransomware gang accused of crippling the leading U.S. fuel pipeline operator said on Monday that it never meant to create havoc, an unusual statement that experts saw as a sign the cybercriminals' scheme had gone awry.

The FBI accused the group that calls itself DarkSide of a digital extortion attempt that prompted Colonial Pipeline to shut down its network, threatening extraordinary disruption as Colonial works to get America's biggest gasoline pipeline back online by the end of the week.

A terse news release posted to DarkSide's website did not directly mention Colonial Pipeline but, under the heading "About the latest news," it noted that "our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society."

The statement did not say how much money the hackers were seeking. Colonial Pipeline did not offer any comment on the hackers' statement and U.S. officials have said they have not been involved in ransom negotiations.

The hackers did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The FBI, Department of Energy and White House have all been involved in a rapid response to the hack, and a server used by the gang was shut down over the weekend.

A person familiar with the matter said on Monday that the server held Colonial data and also files stolen in other DarkSide ransomware operations in progress, and that some of the group's other victims were in the process of being notified.

The FBI office in San Francisco, which had already been investigating DarkSide, was now involved in the law enforcement probe into the Colonial attack along with the FBI in Atlanta, near where the pipeline company is based.

The FBI declined comment.

DarkSide's statement went on to say that its hackers would launch checks on fellow cybercriminals "to avoid consequences in the future." It added the group was "apolitical" and that observers "do not need to tie us" with any particular government.

The statement, which had several spelling and grammatical errors, appeared geared toward lowering the political temperature around one of the most disruptive digital extortion schemes ever reported.

Gasoline prices at the pump have already risen 6 cents in the latest week - potentially putting them on course for the highest level since 2014.

On Sunday the largest U.S. refinery - Motiva Enterprises LLC's 607,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Port Arthur, Texas, refinery - shut two crude distillation units because of the outage at Colonial, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some security experts said the DarkSide hackers were now trying to put some distance between themselves and the chaos they had unleashed.

"This isn't the first time a threat group has gotten in over their heads," said Lior Div, the co-founder and chief executive of Boston-based security company Cybereason.

He said that ransomware groups like DarkSide depended on being able to squeeze their victims discreetly, without attracting too much law enforcement scrutiny.

"The global backlash is hurting their business," said Div. "It is the only reason they are offering a mea culpa."

There is evidence that the DarkSide group operates out of Russia, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters on Monday. He said that while there was "so far" no evidence that the Russian government was involved, "they have some responsibility to deal with this."

A U.S. official said investigators were still working out the nuances of whether and to what degree the alleged Russian indifference to the cybercriminals was deliberate.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The Kremlin routinely denies having anything to do with cyberattacks on the United States.

Tackling the steady drumbeat of ransomware incidents taking American businesses hostage has ranked high on the Biden administration's list of priorities. A senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's cyber arm, CISA, said that the dramatic pipeline company hack should serve as a wakeup call well beyond the energy industry.

"All organizations should really sit up and take notice and make urgent investments to make sure that they're protecting their networks against these threats," said Eric Goldstein, CISA's executive assistant director for cybersecurity.

"This time it was a large pipeline company, tomorrow it could be a different company and a different sector. These actors don't discriminate."

U.S. pipeline hackers say their aim is cash, not chaos
 

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Comments (9)
Prabu Krisna
Prabu Krisna May 11, 2021 1:13AM ET
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Maybe they expect the government to respond : "Understandable. Have a great day."
Don Grif
Don Grif May 10, 2021 9:38PM ET
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Is every U S company and government entity so inept? Can anyone here protect their data and systems?..
Investing Man
Investing Man May 10, 2021 9:38PM ET
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When you are better than the entire world and the entire world is desparate to be like you and copy or steal what you have, it will always be a challenge.
Jim Jones
Jim Jones May 10, 2021 8:33PM ET
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Just send them welfare checks in bitcoin. Everyone wins when the United states is running the bailout train.
vince smith
vince smith May 10, 2021 8:02PM ET
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Well now we know it could be the U.S. government they are broke, probably try anything to keep the socialist agenda going.
Bret Lafrance
Bret Lafrance May 10, 2021 4:17PM ET
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sounds like the Darkside got a visit from someone that scared them, someone that lets them operate but doesn’t like them messing up their oil based economy….
Ad Cline
Ad Cline May 10, 2021 3:07PM ET
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this is reminiscent of scams that trump would like, and it ended like most of his scams, all screwed up.
James Pattison
James Pattison May 10, 2021 2:16PM ET
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Shame they didnt realize all they would have to do is claim a democrat cause and then they would be above the law...
Simon Liu
Simon Liu May 10, 2021 11:56AM ET
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Strong, not China or Russia.
Simon Liu
Simon Liu May 10, 2021 11:56AM ET
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Strange.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi May 10, 2021 11:27AM ET
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I think they realized they ***ed off the wrong people.....
nemo me impune lacessit
nemo me impune lacessit May 10, 2021 11:27AM ET
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We'll see.  Some of the problems lie in digital currency which allow the hackers/crackers to hide via block chain.  Not to mention state operators in the mix.  If we could send Delta/DevGru it'd probably slow it quite a bit, but obfuscated IP addresses create another set of issues with VPN and encryption on locating easily mobile targets.  How noble of them to mea cupla on the societal issue though.
Kelly Mayer
Kelly Mayer May 10, 2021 11:27AM ET
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Yes, like robbing a bank and stating you want no social unrest or turmoil. just the money. I'm sure the bankers and the police will go "Oh sure, we apologise for our hasty judgement if all you wanted in the first place was just the money. Here you go sir! Be sure to drop by again in the near future. Have a good day!"
James Pattison
James Pattison May 10, 2021 11:27AM ET
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nemo me impune lacessit digital currency doesnt allow them to hide... most dogital currency block chain is more open and more precisely traced then anything else... cash would be better traceless... so i dont think you understand how block chain works... if you dont believe me ask the dread pirate roberts
 
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