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Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack: A lesson in why cybersecurity matters

Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack: A lesson in why cybersecurity matters

As a business owner, you know you need to protect your data—in theory, that is. But after going so long without incident, it’s easy to lose sight of why cybersecurity matters. And it’s not until something like the recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack makes headlines that the threat becomes real.

There’s a lot to take away from the attack on Colonial Pipeline. It just goes to show that any organization, including your own, can be targeted by cybercriminals. That’s why it’s worth learning about the attack and its effects. Then you can see how serious and costly ransomware can really be.

But first, it helps to have some background information on the company itself so you can understand the severity of the incident...

What Is Colonial Pipeline?

Colonial Pipeline is the largest fuel pipeline operator in the United States. The privately held, Georgia-based company transports around 100 million gallons of fuel a day through a 5,500-mile pipeline stretching from Texas to New York. In fact, Colonial Pipeline controls nearly half the gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel flowing along the East Coast.

As you’d expect, Colonial Pipeline plays a major role in meeting the energy needs of consumers on this side of the country. Any issues with the company’s operations can have far-reaching effects. And that’s exactly what happened when cybercriminals launched a ransomware attack earlier this month.

An Overview of the Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack

Colonial Pipeline’s system was infiltrated by a criminal extortion ring called DarkSide—a group that develops and sells ransomware tools to other cybercriminals. The attack began on May 6, though it went undetected until the following day. The hackers stole 100 gigabytes of data in a double extortion scheme before locking computers. They held the data hostage and threatened to leak it if their ransom demands weren’t met.

On May 8, Colonial Pipeline released an official statement about the attack, saying that it shut down some of its operations to keep the malware from spreading.

“On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline Company learned it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack. We have since determined that this incident involves ransomware. In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems. Upon learning of the issue, a leading, third-party cybersecurity firm was engaged, and they have launched an investigation into the nature and scope of this incident, which is ongoing. We have contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.”

Colonial Pipeline made the tough decision to pay the ransom in order to get the decryption key and bring the pipeline back up quickly. The company then resumed pipeline service on May 12. However, it would take a few days for the supply chain to return to normal.

Although the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack has been all over the news, it isn’t the only organization that’s been hit by this group. DarkSide reportedly received a total of $90 million in bitcoin ransom payments over the last nine months—with an average of $1.9 million per victim. After losing access to its servers, DarkSide shut down on May 13, and its bitcoin wallet was emptied.

How the Attack Affected Colonial Pipeline & Others

Every ransomware attack has consequences—usually a loss of money and trust. And the same goes for the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. The energy company received a lot of negative press in the wake of the incident. Plus, Colonial Pipeline was forced to pay nearly $5 million in digital currency to recover the stolen data.

As a business owner, you can appreciate the financial repercussions of this attack. But Colonial Pipeline wasn’t the only victim. Every day citizens were and continue to be affected by the attack too.

Here’s why...

• The company shut down operations for 6 days to prevent the malware from spreading.
• People began panic buying gasoline once they learned the pipeline was turned off.
• Gas prices increased dramatically (the highest in 6 years) due to shortages.

The Biden administration even declared a regional state of emergency to keep some of the oil supply moving until the company’s pipeline service was fully restored.

And it’s all because cybercriminals were able to get past a single company’s defenses...

Why Cybersecurity Matters

If there’s one thing to take away from the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, it’s this: Strong cybersecurity is crucial. It’s easy to forget why cybersecurity matters when it’s business as usual. But the event earlier this month demonstrates how quickly things can go wrong when you don’t have a solid strategy in place for ransomware prevention.

Cybercriminals are out there, and their attacks are only becoming more sophisticated. In fact, financially motivated cybercrime is on the rise. And the recent ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline is just more proof that businesses can’t afford to be vulnerable—not when time, money, and trust are at stake.

As a business owner, you need to keep these things in mind:

• Any organization, regardless of size or industry, can be victimized by ransomware.
• Ransomware attacks can have serious financial repercussions.
• A case of ransomware can have far-reaching effects on others outside your business.
• It can take days, weeks, or even months to recover from a ransomware attack.
• It can be difficult to identify gaps in your own security.

Ultimately, the best way to combat financially motivated cyberattacks like this one is to take a proactive approach with the help of those who know cybersecurity inside and out.


The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is just the latest malicious act by hackers whose goal is to hold corporate data for ransom. If it can happen to a massive company like Colonial Pipeline, it can happen to any business, including your own. That’s why you should never lose sight of why cybersecurity matters.

So, how can you ensure your own business isn’t left vulnerable? How can you prevent cybercriminals from harming your business? And how can you avoid the stress of preparing your defenses?

You can make ransomware prevention a top priority and partner with an IT company that has cybersecurity expertise.

The good news is IT Management Solutions has you covered. Learn more about our ransomware prevention services here and schedule a Discovery Call today. Take the first step toward keeping your data, customers, and business secure.

The next time a big ransomware attack makes headlines, you can rest easy knowing your sensitive data and hard-earned money are safe...

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