Colonial Pipeline Company Hacked: Unraveling the Cybersecurity Breach That Shook the Nation

Details, Impacts, and Aftermath of The Largest Cyberattack On An Oil Infrastructure In The History Of The United States.


Mwenda Kelvin (Chief Editor)

5/11/20213 min read

Colonial Pipeline Company (Credit: CNN)

The Colonial Pipeline Company carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Houston, Texas to as far away as Southeastern United States and it is estimated that about 45% of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast, usually arrives through the Colonial Pipeline system.


On the 7th of May 2021 saw the largest cyber-attack on an oil infrastructure in the history of the United States where the Colonial Pipeline Company experienced a ransomware cyber-attack that had a very immense impact on the computerized equipment managing the pipeline to a point that the company had to shut down all the pipeline operations in order to sort out the attack.

Colonial Pipeline Company (Credit: abcnews)

This attack came amid increasing interests over the weakness of infrastructure to cyber-attacks after an experience of several high-profile attacks in the country that seriously strike multiple federal government agencies including the State, Defence, Homeland Security and the Treasury. Overseen by the FBI, the Colonial Pipeline Company complied to the hacker group (DarkSide) and paid the amount (4.4 million dollars/75 bitcoin) as was asked by the hackers where afterwards, an IT tool was provided to the company by the hackers in order to rejuvenate the system although the tool had a very lengthy processing time getting the system back. The same hacker group (DarkSide) is believed to have stolen about 100 gigabytes of data from the company servers on the day before the attack happened and used it to threaten the company that they will leak it on the internet if the ransom was not paid. Later on the 7th of June 2021, the Department of Justice proclaimed that it had recovered approximately 2.3 million dollars/63 bitcoin from the ransom payment.


The billing infrastructure of the company was the primary target of the cyber-attack by the hackers though the actual oil pumping systems was still capable of production. The company said that it had to shut down the pipeline as a safeguard due to an interest that the hackers might have acquired information that could allow them to carry out more attacks in the future on the undefended parts of the pipeline. The attack had a huge impact that even the company could not confirm when the resumption of its normal functions was to be. Due to the fuel shortages experienced, the American Airlines had to change its flight schedules temporarily whereby at least two flights (to Honolulu and London) had fuel stops or some plane changes included to their program for a time period of four days. The fuel shortage also required airports that were directly serviced by the Colonial Pipeline Company to opt for other fuel suppliers. Regions from the northern South Carolina to southern Virginia were the hardest hit with about 71% of filing stations running out of fuel in Charlotte on the 11th of May and about 87% of stations out in Washington D.C. on the 14th of May. This made the ordinary fuel prices to ascend to their highest ever since 2014 where a gallon reached 3 dollars.


The President of United States (Joe Biden) declared a state of emergency on the 9th of May 2021 leading to limitations on the amount of petroleum products during regular times domestically within the United States but were temporarily suspended with the declaration in place. In Georgia, the Governor (Brian Kemp) also declared a state of emergency and immediately temporarily waived collection of the state’s taxes on motor fuel both diesel and gasoline. The Department of State also issued a statement that a 10 million dollar reward would be given out to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of the hacker group (DarkSide) top members.