The Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Cyberattack — Part 2 – rAVe [PUBS]

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hacker cybersecurity cyberattacks

What motivates a hacker or group of cyberattackers? The answer is typically money.

For each column in this series, rAVe writer Paul Konikowski takes a deeper dive into a recent security event or data breach, shedding light on supply chain vulnerabilities, infrastructure and cyber-physical security.

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May of 2021 caused many gas shortages. It also resulted in an Executive Order from the Biden administration to “improve the nation’s cybersecurity and protect federal government networks.” The EO press release noted, “public and private sector entities increasingly face sophisticated malicious cyber activity from both nation-state actors and cyber criminals.” But what motivates these attackers?

Hollywood movies and television series have long depicted hackers as teenagers huddled in a basement or dorm room, hacking into systems to change their grades or just to cause a little mayhem. The mischief-minded nerdy teens or collegiate hacker groups do exist in real life, for sure. But those stories are rare, and the impact of hacks by mischievous “script kiddies” is usually very minor. It’s more of competition at that age. While the pride of “cracking” a device or “pwning” someone is a real feeling among cybercriminals, most don’t do it for fun. Instead, most cyberattackers are motivated by money. Let’s look at the Colonial Pipeline as an example.

On May 7, 2021, a group of cybertattackers known as DarkSide used ransomware to attack the business networks of Colonial Pipeline, and the pipeline management quickly shut down the pipeline systems too.

A few days later, the Darkside website hosted a statement about the motivation of the attack, which said:

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, [you] do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for … our motives… Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.” 

Granted, if this statement came from criminals, it could be a partial or complete lie. But for the…