Shutdowns continue to be the theme of the decade, with a vital US pipeline remaining closed for the third day even as the Biden administration assures that an "all-hands-on-deck" restoration effort is underway. And while the Suez Canal was brought down by an errant ship, and the world by COVID-19, this was the result of a cyber attack. And as things presently stand, a pipeline which delivers roughly 45% of the fuel consumed on the US East Coast is out of order.
According to an AP report that quoted a person close to the investigation, the cyberextortion attempt was the work of a criminal gang known as DarkSide. The report quoted a source to say that the attackers also stole data from the company, presumably for extortion purposes. The group cultivates a Robin Hood-like image of stealing from corporations and giving a cut to charity. Official data on the ransomware attack however does not provide details about the exact demands or indeed who made them. The organisation has not made their demands public, and it remains unclear whether the ransom is being paid.
Since the attack, Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline has been forced to shut down its entire system, with only a few smaller lines being restored on Sunday. While the government assures that work is being carried out on an urgent basis, there has been no definitive timeline given for the restoration.
Experts said that gasoline prices are unlikely to be affected if the pipeline is back to normal in the next few days but that the incident - the worst cyberattack to date on critical US infrastructure - should serve as a wake-up call to companies about the vulnerabilities they face. As per a Reuters report, the southeastern United States will be the first to see price rises at the pumps. Reportedly, demand has already picked up.
Debnil Chowdhury at the research firm IHSMarkit said that if the outage stretches to one to three weeks, gas prices could begin to rise. "I wouldn't be surprised, if this ends up being an outage of that magnitude, if we see 15- to 20-cent rise in gas prices over next week or two," he said.
The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey. Its pipeline system spans more than 5,500 miles, transporting more than 100 million gallon a day. Keep in mind that the company's network also serves major US airports.
(With inputs from agencies)