Colonial Pipeline CEO claims he paid ransom to hackers ‘for the country’
Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million in ransom to a group of hackers.
Joseph Blount, the chief executive of Colonial Pipeline, said in an interview published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal that he decided to pay the ransom the same day the company learned of the hacking.
“I know that’s a highly controversial decision,” Blount told the Journal in what were his first public remarks since the hack. “I didn’t make it lightly. I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this.”
The FBI has long advised companies not to pay when hit by ransomware, a malicious software that locks up a user’s data. In the attacks, the hackers demand a ransom to unlock or return the affected data.
The FBI says that paying ransom creates incentives for more attacks and supports criminal gangs.
“The FBI does not support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack,” the FBI’s website says plainly. “It [paying ransom] also encourages perpetrators to target more victims and offers an incentive for others to get involved in this type of illegal activity.”
The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline ended up shuttering the largest US oil pipeline for six days anyway.
The stoppage spurred panic buying and gas shortages across the Southeast.
Blount told the Journal that the company decided to pay the ransom in consultation with experts who had dealt with DarkSide before. He declined to identify which experts he consulted, the Journal reported.
In exchange for the payment, the hackers gave Colonial a decryption tool to unlock the crippled systems, the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter, who said the company was still unable to immediately restore operations.
And the Alpharetta, Georgia-based company is still unable to bill customers because the hacking caused issues with that system, said Blount, who said Colonial’s overall hit will be in the tens of millions of dollars.
And the company is unlikely to enjoy its pre-hack anonymity anytime soon.
“We were perfectly happy having no one know who Colonial Pipeline was, and unfortunately that’s not the case anymore,” Blount told the Journal. “Everybody in the world knows.”