For years, government officials and industry executives have run elaborate simulations of a targeted cyberattack on the power grid or gas pipelines in the United States, imagining how the country would respond.
But when the real, this-is-not-a-drill moment arrived, it didn’t look anything like the war games.
The attacker was not a terror group or a hostile state like Russia, China or Iran, as had been assumed in the simulations. It was a criminal extortion ring. The goal was not to disrupt the economy by taking a pipeline offline but to hold corporate data for ransom.
The most visible effects — long lines of nervous motorists at gas stations — stemmed not from a government response but from a decision by the victim, Colonial Pipeline, which controls nearly half the gasoline, jet fuel and diesel flowing along the East Coast, to turn off the spigot. It did so out of concern that the malware that had infected its back-office functions could make it difficult to bill for fuel delivered along the pipeline or even spread into the pipeline’s operating system.
What happened next was a vivid example of the difference between tabletop simulations and the cascade of consequences that can follow even a relatively unsophisticated attack. The aftereffects of the episode are still playing out, but some of the lessons are already clear, and demonstrate how far the government and private industry have to go in preventing and dealing with cyberattacks and in creating rapid backup systems for when critical infrastructure goes down.
nearly $5 million in digital currency to recover its data, the company found that the process of decrypting its data and turning the pipeline back on again was agonizingly slow, meaning it will still be days before the East Coast gets back to normal.
seeks to mandate changes in cybersecurity.
And he suggested that he was willing to take steps that the Obama administration hesitated to take during the 2016 election hacks — direct action to strike back at the attackers.
“We’re also going to pursue a measure to disrupt their ability to operate,” Mr. Biden said, a line that seemed to hint that United States Cyber Command, the military’s cyberwarfare force, was being authorized to kick DarkSide off line, much as it did to another ransomware group in the fall ahead of the presidential election.
Hours later, the group’s internet sites went dark. By early Friday, DarkSide, and several other ransomware groups, including Babuk, which has hacked Washington D.C.’s police department, announced they were getting out of the game.