COLONIAL PIPELINE – ARE WE RANSOMED FOREVER?

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COLONIAL PIPELINE – ARE WE RANSOMED FOREVER?

We live in times, which looks so organized on the face of it, it gives you a feeling that everything is under control and that we have hard hitting firepower to retort when the crisis hits. Unfortunately, that is only a democratic perception we have to live with. Kidnapping for ransom used to be a one-off affair or for the matter even hijacking. Ransomware, the digital variant of physical ransom is way more potent and damaging in multifarious ways and at its worst has the capability to bring any country to its knees. Known as Fire Sale it is a three-stage cyber-attack on a country’s computer infrastructure. US has been facing the lesser variants of it but devastatingly damaging. Most of the time, you can’t even fathom out the complete damage.

The ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipelines recently, the operations being halted on May 7th, speaks volumes of the challenges which US and the world faces on account of ransomware attacks. Ransomware happens to be the most popular and rewarding cybercrime the world over. What is really distressing is that our capability to deal with breaches / ransomware has barely improved since the days of the Sony Productions hack in 2014. The WannaCry after a two years long hiatus hit US small town local self-governments again in May 2019. At least one million computers had not gone through the mandatory patch management. Some ended up paying up ransom. This is the tragic part of the story. We don’t know where are we heading to?

Early this year we had the SolarWinds hack, one of its kind making its way into 18,000 systems from critical government departments to the  best of the Fortune 500 companies. The story seems to be unending. The present Colonial Pipeline attack has been deemed as the ” the worst  attack on critical infrastructure to date.” The hackers by name DarkSide stole more than 100 GB of data. FBI and other agencies have collaborated to take down the cloud servers. The impact has been disastrous hitting the supplies across the East Coast. The colonial Pipeline transports more than 2.5 million barrels for various types of  fuel and natural gas via Gulf Coast pipelines that span more than 5,500 miles.

 The fingers point once again to the same suspect country who has been playing havoc with the US, may it be Presidential Elections (2016) or Critical Infrastructure, as in the present case. The sad part is that we neither have capability to prevent nor to bring the culprits to book. The painstaking investigation finally hits the stumbling block; technical, legal or otherwise. There are no ways to ameliorate the  plight of the victim. The recovery might take months or may be a year or more and an enormous cost, if the ransom is not paid. The company might just go out of business, who knows. Colonial Pipelines have ended up paying $5 million as ransom as the only way out of the jinx. Where have the Cyber Criminals brought us to?

RANSOMWARE CAN BRING THE CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE TO ITS KNEES. ARE WE PREPARED?

Sanjay Sahay

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