Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount said he approved paying more than $4 million to the Russian-based hackers who cyberattacked his company because “it was the right thing to do for the country.”
In a May 19 interview published by The Wall Street Journal, Blount said he authorized the ransom payment of $4.4 million because executives were unsure how badly the cyberattack had breached its systems or how long it would take to bring the pipeline back.
“I know that’s a highly controversial decision,” Blount said. “I didn’t make it lightly. I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this. But it was the right thing to do for the country.”
The interview was the first time Blount or the company acknowledged paying the ransom. He also said it will take months and cost the company “tens of millions of dollars” to fully repair the damage and restore all of its business systems. Blount told The Wall Street Journal an employee found a ransom note from hackers on a control-room computer on the morning of May 7.
The Colonial Pipeline stretches from Texas to New Jersey and delivers about 45% of the gasoline consumed on the East Coast. The shutdown caused shortages at the pumps throughout the South and emptied stations in the Washington, D.C., area.
Much of the U.S. pipeline infrastructure, including Colonial, is privately owned. The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, said the U.S. should establish mandatory cybersecurity standards for pipelines similar to those in the electricity sector.
“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick said.