How Hackers Sparked Fears of a 2021 Gas Shortage — Should You Really be Worried?

It’s been roughly six days since the Colonial Pipeline was “attacked” by hackers and it’s starting to feel like the great toilet paper shortage of 2021 all over again.

But is all of the panic buying justified?

The short answer is no. The pipeline pumps kicked back on today and we should see a return to the normal flow of gasoline and jet fuel in the near future.

While this sounds like good news, it’s exposed a serious weakness in our digital defenses and an inability to cope with breaks in our supply chain.

What does computer tech have to do with a fuel pipeline?

When many of us imagine an oil pipeline, we imagine a great underground channel carrying car juice all over the country using simple pumps and elbow grease. For some, it’s more mystery than they’d like to admit. Gas just magically shows up at the local station and we take for granted that it’ll always be available when it’s time to fuel up.

However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The pipeline is a massive endeavour that runs through areas where people may not be able to easily access. In addition to this, there are so many moving pieces that it only makes sense to employ the latest in technological advances to control many of the day-to-day operations.

Computer technology controls pumps, sensors, and even robots responsible for certain types of maintenance. And all of this is connected by a network controlled by a company or organization.

Where there’s a connected network there’s a way to breach it!

While the operational side of the pipeline is heavily protected, there are usually cracks in the admin side that give hackers the in they need.

Experts speculate that this was how the hackers who perpetrated the Colonial Pipeline attack got in.

Who was behind the attack?

This is the billion-dollar question.

As of right now, the FBI has named Russian ransomware gang DarkSide as the culprit, indicating that this was a bold move that could herald an increase in attacks on connected portions of the national infrastructure.

This group specializes in ransomware — a type of malware that can stop operations via encryptions in exchange for money or the cooperation of the owners. Imagine someone locking you out of your home, hiding all of the keys, and refusing to allow you access unless you sent them ten grand.

Most of the time, these gangs focus on profit, and after a seemingly apologetic statement released on their dark web site, DarkSide may have taken things further than intended.

“Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society,” they wrote.

“From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

Regardless of the genuine nature of their statement, the entire incident has exposed cracks in our infrastructure that require some serious attention from cybersecurity experts.

Aside from disruptions in our supply chain, what does ransomware mean for regular people?

Recently, hackers have used ransomware as a way to blackmail people based on their online activity. For example, a person may visit some sites that are just a little south of “questionable” (don’t worry, we don’t judge legal activities).

Hackers gain access to their computer via malware, pull records of these activities, and threaten to expose them publicly if the person doesn’t send a certain amount of money.

These situations are scary, awful, and often leave people feeling helpless and embarrassed. It’s difficult to protect against these types of attacks, especially as hackers become increasingly skilled in their efforts.

So, should we be worried about a gas shortage?

Again, and we can’t stress this enough, the only thing that will cause a serious gas shortage is panic buying because people believe there’s going to be a serious gas shortage. See how that works?

The supply chain should be returning to normal, and once the depleted areas are taken care of, there should be nothing else to worry about — short of more sophisticated attacks in the future.

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