The United States government is said to have recovered millions of dollars in cryptocurrency paid as a ransom to the hackers believed to be behind the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline Co., the largest pipeline system for oil products in the country.
The Justice Department on Monday is expected to announce details of the operation led by the FBI with the cooperation of the Colonial Pipeline operator, the people briefed on the matter said. The ransom recovery is a rare outcome for a company that has fallen victim to a debilitating cyberattack in the booming criminal business of ransomware. Colonial Pipeline Co. CEO Joseph Blount told The Wall Street Journal In an interview published last month that the company complied with the $4.4 million ransom demand because officials didn’t know the extent of the intrusion by hackers and how long it would take to restore operations.
“The misuse of cryptocurrency is a massive enabler here,” Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger said in an interview with CNN. “That’s the way folks get the money out of it. On the rise of anonymity and enhancing cryptocurrencies, the rise of mixer services that essentially launder funds.”
“Individual companies feel under pressure — particularly if they haven’t done the cybersecurity work — to pay off the ransom and move on,” Neuberger stated. “But in the long-term, that’s what drives the ongoing ransom [attacks]. The more folks get paid the more it drives bigger and bigger ransoms and more and more potential disruption.”
Experts believe the hacker group responsible for the attack, DarkSide, operates in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. The Russian government has denied any involvement in the hack.
“Russia has nothing to do with these hacker attacks, and had nothing to do with the previous hacker attacks,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said. “We categorically do not accept any accusations against us.”
The attack crippled Colonial Pipeline’s operations on the East Coast for several days, sparking gas shortages and price hikes in states such as North Carolina and Virginia.