The operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline confirmed it paid $4.4 million to a gang of hackers who broke into its computer systems.
Colonial Pipeline said Wednesday that after it learned of the May 7 ransomware attack, the company took its pipeline system offline and needed to do everything in its power to restart it quickly and safely, and made the decision then to pay the ransom.
“This decision was not made lightly," but it was one that had to be made, a company spokesman said. “Tens of millions of Americans rely on Colonial – hospitals, emergency medical services, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, airports, truck drivers and the traveling public.”
Colonial Pipeline’s CEO, Joseph Blount, told The Wall Street Journal he authorized the payment because the company didn't know the extent of the damage and wasn't sure how long it would take to bring the pipeline's systems back.
The FBI discourages making ransom payments to ransomware attackers, because paying encourages criminal networks around the globe who have hit thousands of businesses and health care systems in the U.S. in the past year alone. But many victims of ransomware attacks, where hackers demand large sums of money to decrypt stolen data or to prevent it from being leaked online, opt to pay.
“I know that’s a highly controversial decision,” Blount told the Journal. “I didn’t make it lightly. I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this.”
“But it was the right thing to do for the country,” he said.
Blount said Colonial paid the ransom in consultation with experts who previously dealt with the group behind the attacks, DarkSide, which rents out its ransomware to partners to carry out the actual attacks.