President Biden directly addressed the Colonial Pipeline hack in a White House speech Thursday in a signal of both how serious the effects of the hacks have been and how hard ransomware has affected both critical infrastructure as well as public agencies and companies. Notably, Biden said that the U.S. government does not believe the Russian government was involved in the hack, but said that the FBI currently believes the hackers live in Russia.
“The FBI has released details on the attack,” Biden said. “We do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack, but we do have strong reason to believe the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia … I am confident that I’ve read the report of the FBI accurately and they say [Putin] was not [involved], the government was not.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Biden said he has not ruled out offensive cyber attacks against the hackers responsible, and said the government would “take decisive action against ransomware networks.”
Biden refused to comment on whether Colonial Pipeline paid a $5 million ransom. There have been conflicting reports about whether or not the company paid a ransom. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported the company paid the ransom hours after the attack. A day earlier, Reuters said the company had no plan to pay the ransom.
Last week, a ransomware group called DarkSide hacked Colonial Pipeline, which operates a 5,500 mile pipeline along the Eastern seaboard and is the largest oil pipeline in the United States. In response to the hack, which affected the company's IT network, the company shut down the whole pipeline, halting the distribution of gas across the whole East Coast of the United States. There is no evidence that the hackers were able to break into the Operational Network, or OT, of the pipeline.
The hackers responsible for the attack published a press release on their dark web site on Monday, distancing themselves from the Russian government, and claiming to be completely "apolitical" and only interested in money.
"Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society," the hackers' statement read.
The pipeline's shutdown has resulted in gas shortages across the southeast United States, with many gas stations running out of gas because of both a gas shortage and, more importantly, widespread panic buying. Viral videos over the last few days have shown customers filling plastic bags and gas cans with gas. One Hummer in Florida was reported to have burst into flames minutes after the driver filled up several containers with gasoline. Several prominent conservative voices including Tucker Carlson have associated the pipeline hack with a Green New Deal conspiracy and hashtags associating the gas shortage with President Biden have been prominent on social media.
The speech itself is notable because it is rare for a sitting President to directly address a hack, and shows that the White House believes that both this hack and ransomware more generally is a threat to the United States. Biden used the speech to call for legislation that would provide funding to so-called "critical infrastructure" to harden their cybersecurity practices.
Biden said that Americans can expect a return to normalcy over the next few days, and said that the pipeline has "begun restarting."
"Fuel is beginning to flow to a majority of markets they service. They should be reaching full capacity this weekend and into next week," Biden said. "We will not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This pipeline is 5,500 miles long. It had never been fully shut down in its entire history. Now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations and it’s going to take some time."
Biden said that the federal government would consider taking action against any gas stations that price gouge, and said "nobody should be using this situation for financial gains. That’s what the hackers are trying to do. That’s what the hackers are about, not us."