Gasoline consumers in Louisiana were fortunate enough not to be affected by the Colonial Pipeline Company’s accounting software ransomware hack on May 7th. Large airports in North Carolina and Georgia were less fortunate; also the drivers of several southeastern states who were confronted with higher gas prices because the Colonial Pipeline had to cease operations. JBS, the largest beef processor in the United States, has also been disrupted. DarkSide, a cybercriminal based in Eastern Europe, was behind the hack. Both companies had to pay ransom in cryptocurrency to restore their computers.
Colonial Pipeline is a significant part of Louisiana’s economy as it runs through the state. It collects and distributes gasoline, diesel, and kerosene produced by refineries in Louisiana. President Joe Biden strongly warned DarkSide and its mediator, President Vladimir Putin, of Russia. DarkSide admitted its involvement, while Putin protested his innocence.
DarkSide may not work directly under Russian intelligence, but it almost certainly has its blessings. Biden is so convinced of Russia’s involvement that his government included a condemnation and warning against Russia in the joint communiqué of the G-7 summit.
Late last year, Cozy Bear, who works directly under Russian intelligence agencies, launched a cyber attack on a software update managed by SolarWinds for US government agencies and private companies. Then-President Donald Trump shifted the blame from Russia onto China. President-elect Biden chose instead to be critical of Russian behavior and planned to devote significant resources to combating cyber (and other) security threats. In March, $ 10 billion for cybersecurity and information technology was included in its American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
At face-to-face meetings between Biden and Putin in Geneva this week, cybersecurity was a major item on the agenda, but no solution was found. The diplomatic wrestling match before the summit, the ups and downs of rhetoric and the mostly unsuccessful meetings mean that no immediate solutions to the problems of two deadly military powers can be expected. Putin, the “killer” man with no “soul,” to put it in Biden’s words, fueled internal divisions in the United States fueled by the former president, for whom the Russian leader showered praise before the summit. Putin went away declaring a successful meeting, which will no doubt be touted by his comrades in Russia.
For the security of the United States and the rest of the world, there must be an international conference soon where the nations of the world should establish stricter rules and laws for cyberspace. There must be instruments to punish cyber criminals, be they state or non-state actors. If the international community fails to enact appropriate laws against cybercrime, a digital third world war sparked by a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” could become a reality.
Mostafa Sarwar is the Dean of the Department of Science and Mathematics at Delgado and Professor Emeritus of Geophysics at the University of New Orleans.
Our Views: It is more than a crime for vital infrastructure to be hacked to extort ransom