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Ransomware crisis hits oil pipeline

Cyber criminals hiding out in the former Soviet Union struck at a major U.S. oil pipeline company this week, hitting Colonial Pipeline with a ransomware attack that force the pipeline to shut down temporarily.

The pipeline, which provides about 45 percent of the fuel to the Eastern seaboard, is expected to start up before the lack of service creates problems, price spikes and shortages, but this attack is one more example of the danger of this type of crime.

Ransomware attacks occur when hackers break into a company or agency’s computer system, scramble their data and demand large payments before it gives them the key to unscramble. The hacker gang in this case, called Dark Side, claims it is only in it for profit and doesn’t attack targets like hospitals, schools or government, but that’s small reassurance.

These cyber criminals tend to operate in countries like Russia or China, where they are safe from prosecution. Some are even employed by foreign governments to disrupt our elections, steal our data, and potentially sabotage our crucial infrastructure, like oil pipelines or electrical grids.

The risk is great, and the best defense is for companies to maintain strong, up-to-date security systems, but the cost of staying ahead of the hackers is expensive.

Dealing with these criminal gangs will involve a concerted effort by the U.S. and allies who face the same threats. It will involve identifying those involved, and using sanctions against those governments that harbor them and encourage their activities.

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