Colonial Pipeline’s CEO faced tough questions from lawmakers Tuesday about his company’s ransomware attack, which caused a major disruption in the nation’s fuel supply and a run on gas stations along the East Coast.
Colonial CEO Joseph Blount’s testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee comes just one day after the Justice Department announced that it had recovered millions of dollars in ransom money paid to hackers by the company.
To begin the hearing, Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., stated that the ransomware attack affected millions of Americans. “Unfortunately, the next time an incident like this occurs, it could be even worse.”
“I’m glad your company is still recovering from this malicious attack, and that the FBI was able to recover millions of dollars in ransom payments, but I’m concerned that this breach occurred in the first place. As a result, communities from Texas to New York have suffered “Peters stated.
“Make no mistake about it. The consequences will be severe if we do not improve our cyber-security readiness “He continued.
Blount addressed the $4.4 million ransom payment in his opening statement, calling it the “hardest decision” of his career. “I made the decision to pay, and I made the decision to keep the payment information as private as possible. It was the most difficult decision I’d made in my 39 years in the energy industry, and I understand how important our pipeline is to the country, so I prioritized the country’s interests “He stated.
“I kept the information under wraps because we were concerned about operational safety and security, and we wanted to keep our focus on restoring the pipeline. I believe wholeheartedly. It was the correct decision, but I want to respect those who see the issue differently”, he continued.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pressed Blount on why Colonial Pipeline would pay the ransom when the FBI’s policy is not to do so, and whether the FBI informed Colonial of this. He also questioned Blount on his company’s correspondence with the federal government on May 7.
“I was not present during that conversation. I can’t confirm or deny that, but I do agree that their position is that ransom payments are discouraged. It is a decision that must be made by the company “He said it again.
Colonial transports nearly half of all fuel consumed on the East Coast. The company was back up and running in a matter of days, but the slowdown meant that there were still delays in the aftermath of the attack. The company admitted in May that it paid the ransom in Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
“We needed to do everything we could to restart the system as quickly and safely as possible.” “The decision was made to pay the ransom,” according to the company. “This was not an easy decision to make, but it was one that had to be made.” Tens of millions of Americans rely on Colonial, including hospitals, emergency medical services, law enforcement, fire departments, airports, truck drivers, and the general public. Our priority remains the continued delivery of refined products to the communities we serve in a safe manner.” In an interview last month, the company’s CEO stated that he authorized a $4.3 million payment to the DarkSide group only hours after learning of the attack because executives were unsure how long it would take to restart the pipeline.
“Today, we turned the tables on DarkSide,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco at a news conference on Monday. “By pursuing the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks, including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency, we will continue to use all of our tools and resources to increase the cost and consequences of ransomware and other cyber-enabled attacks.”