Crisis over, hopefully: The Colonial Pipeline is flowing again

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Thank goodness. I was just about to head down to the pump and fill up a couple of Hefty Bags with unleaded.

Biden was asked about the pipeline earlier this afternoon and teased that good news was coming:

A few hours later Jennifer Granholm announced that the pipeline would be turned back on at 5 p.m. ET, and apparently it was. Inquiring minds want to know: How’d they defy the Russian ransomware hackers and bring operations back online in just a few days? Did they pay the ransom?

Because, given his history with trying to bribe Iran, Biden’s the kind of guy whom you might think would pay the ransom.

According to CNN, Colonial Pipeline has not paid the ransom:

The company, working with US government officials, has managed to retrieve the most important data that was stolen, according to a person familiar with the response. The person said the data was not retrieved from the hackers via a ransomware payment, but by leveraging the attackers’ use of intermediary servers within the United States to store the stolen information.

Experts have also told CNN that early action by the company means it may be able to restore its systems without paying the ransom.

In response to the attack, private sector companies worked with US agencies to take a key server offline as recently as Saturday, disrupting the cyberattacks against the pipeline operator, CNN previously reported…

“Since the exfiltrated data was cut off and never reached the ‘homeland’ there is no real additional incentive to pay an extortion now,” [security expert] Liska said, referring to what is likely Russia or another Eastern European country.

Colonial reportedly managed to restore its data via backups, although we’re all quietly wondering whether the State Department didn’t phone the Kremlin and warn them that shutting down a major energy pipeline that serves the east coast is more like an act of war than standard hacking chicanery. In fact, CNN says the feds think the hackers in this case may have been novices who were using the DarkSide ransomware but got out over their skis by targeting Colonial, not realizing the national impact a ransomware attack on that company might have. That may explain why the hackers, er, apologized a few days ago, perhaps under pressure from their national government.

And it may also explain why the hack is now ending. Maybe Colonial really did retrieve their data from backups or maybe the hackers thought better of trying to abscond with the data once they grasped the magnitude of the crisis they had created.

Although the pipeline is restarting operations this afternoon, it’ll take several days for the supply line to return to normal. Are there enough people out there to create problems for everyone else by continuing with panic-buying even though the shortage is almost over? Probably, yeah. More than 10,000 gas stations have already run dry, not so much because the pipeline’s not supplying them as because locals have already resorted to hoarding. And combat, if need be:

“If I don’t have gas, I don’t work,” said Ronald Ross, 47, a DoorDash driver in Atlanta, as he fueled up his Chevy sedan.

Asked about government requests to avoid hoarding, he said: “Forget that. It’s first come first serve. People have to look out for themselves. As long as they’re peaceful and all.”

Fistfights at gas stations were reported in some places. One video showed an altercation between two customers at a station in North Carolina.

Nearly 60% of gas stations in metro Atlanta were without gasoline on Wednesday, along with more than 70% of stations in metro Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida tracking firm GasBuddy said.

The head of a fuel-distribution industry group told reporters that some gas stations were selling days’ worth of supply in a few hours. Another group claimed that some southern stations were selling two to three times their normal amount of gas yesterday. Stay calm! The gas is coming back. Leave the Hefty bags at home tomorrow.