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Major US pipeline CEO says paid $4.4 mn in ransom to hackers

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Motorists lined up at an Exxon station in North Carolina last week amid a shortage due to the multi-day shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline./AFP
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May 20, 2021 - 08:17 AM

NEW YORK — Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million in ransom to hackers after a cyberattack because it was “the right thing to do for the country,” the US company’s head said, according to a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday.

Joseph Blount told the newspaper he recognized the payment was a “highly controversial decision,” but that it was a necessary action given the debilitating impact of the multi-day shutdown on the United States.

“I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this,” Blount told the publication. “But it was the right thing to do for the country.”

His remarks amount to the first public acknowledgement by the company of the ransom payment.

Colonial announced last Thursday it had restarted operations and resumed fuel deliveries to all markets after completing shutting down the line on May 7 following the cyberattack.

The pipeline’s shutdown caused panic buying in the eastern United States and a spike in gasoline prices as Washington waived clean air regulations and rules on shipping and trucking to alleviate shortages.

Unknown actors last Friday shut down the servers of Russia-based cyber-extortionist Darkside, which was behind the ransomware scam.

After making the ransom payment on the night of May 7, Colonial Pipeline received a decryption tool from the hackers. The ransom payment was made in bitcoin, the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.

While the pipeline’s flow has returned to normal, the episode will cost Colonial tens of millions of additional dollars to completely restore the operations over a matter of months, Blount told the newspaper.

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