War against cyber attacks demands intense response

They are high-tech burglaries — only worse.

Cyberattacks are the electronic equivalent of war; instead of corpses scattered on the battlefield, businesses face the brunt of the burden, with commerce disrupted and psyches shaken.

A new and chilling form of terrorism, the attacks emerge from the murky world of the “dark internet” — a term which, unfamiliar to many, may become all too common.

We witnessed the damage, both real and potential, on May 7, when a criminal gang launched a ransomware hit against Colonial Pipeline Co.

The company, which says it transports about 45 percent of all gasoline consumed on the East Coast, shut down operations after the attack, causing a fuel shortage across the region.

Gasoline prices rose an average of 6 cents a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association, and motorists searched frantically for pumps that had not gone dry.

The federal government declared a regional emergency, allowing the transportation of fuel through tanker trucks instead of the 5,500-mile pipeline between New York and Texas.

How did the attack happen?

Described by the FBI as a Russia-based cybercrime group, DarkSide used malware to encrypt company files, threatening to leak the data it downloaded if its ransom demands were not met.

Colonial officials said a catastrophe was averted when the company, a day after the hit, paid a ransom of $4.4 million in bitcoin; U.S. officials later said they recovered $2.3 million.

“I know how critical our pipeline is to the country,” Colonial CEO Joseph Blount told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, defending his decision to pay the ransom. “And I put the interests of the country first.”

Both the government and the private sector must guard against the potential danger of these attacks. The enemies do not wear uniforms or brandish guns. They emerge from the dark labyrinth of the internet, and they are cold, calculating and brutal.

“The analogy would be I break into your house, and once I get access to…