Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the vast Colonial petrochemical pipeline stretching from Texas to New York was reaching full capacity again after resuming operations following a cyberattack.
“This is not like flicking on a light switch. It’s going to take some time, and there may be some hiccups,” the US president said, adding that services were expected to return fully to normal this weekend.
There have been conflicting reports about whether Colonial has paid a ransom to the hackers.
Biden declined to comment on the issue when questioned by the media at the White House.
Meanwhile, Biden noted that according to his intelligence briefings, the Russian state and Russian president Vladimir Putin were not involved in the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline Co last week, which shut down its pipeline carrying gasoline and other petrochemical commodities, for six days.
But the US believes that the cyberattack gang DarkSide, which has said it carried out the attack, emanates from Russia and has urged the Russian president to take action against such actors.
Biden said on Thursday: “We are working to try to get to the place where we have international standards that governments, knowing that criminal activity is happening from their territory, that we all move on those criminal enterprises.”
The US president is expected to meet with Putin in person next month when he makes his first trip overseas since winning the White House and visits the UK and the European Union, though a date and place for the meeting is not yet announced.
“I expect that’s one of the topics I will be talking about with Putin,” Biden said of fighting cybercrime.
Hours after the Colonial pipeline company moved some of the first millions of gallons of motor fuels after a six-day outage following a crippling cyber-strike, a report emerged claiming that the company paid an almost $5m ransom to Eastern European hackers behind this high-tech attack.
The outage spurred fuel shortages, driven in part by consumers panic-buying petrol–across east coast states.
Bloomberg reported Thursday that Colonial paid this extortion fee in “untraceable cryptocurrency within hours after the attack”.
After the ransomware hackers received this payout, they provided a decryption mechanism to enable the restoration of its computer system, Bloomberg reported.
This decryption tool was so slow, however, that Colonial kept using its own backups to help relaunch its system, sources told the media outlet.
Bloomberg’s report contradicts Reuters and Washington Post reports on Wednesday that the company had no immediate plans to pay up. These reports were also rooted in anonymous sources.
The pipeline, which carries 100 million gallons per day of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, resumed computer-controlled pumping late Wednesday after adding safety measures.
The shutdown caused gasoline shortages and emergency declarations from Virginia to Florida, led two refineries to curb production, and had airlines reshuffling some refueling operations.
“Relief is coming,” said Jeanette McGee, a spokeswoman for motor travel group AAA.
Motorists’ tempers frayed as panic buying led stations to run out even where supplies were available.
The average national gasoline price rose above $3 a gallon, the highest since October 2014, the American Automobile Association said, and prices in some areas jumped as much as 11¢ in a day.
As FBI investigators dug into an attack that paralyzed a large part of the US energy infrastructure, the group believed to be responsible said it was publishing data from breaches at three other companies, including an Illinois technology firm.
The FBI, which said the hackers were linked to a group named DarkSide, discourages the payment of ransoms, as there is no certainty that cyber-attackers will actually agree to the terms of an arrangement. Moreover, paying ransom provides incentive to other possible hackers, Bloomberg reported.
Colonial has a type of insurance that typically covers ransom payments, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
The US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on Thursday that ransom should not be paid by companies that are the victims of cyberattacks.
“We don’t want people to think there’s money in it to threaten the security of a critical infrastructure in our country,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi noted a “governance issue” in hardening US facilities against attacks.
“This cannot be open-season for hackers who can make money off of a threat even if they don’t go as far as crippling the entity, as with Colonial,” she said.
Pelosi referred to the incident as “Russian-oriented. We don’t know [whether it was] Putin-oriented.”