Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount faced mounting pressure from Congressional lawmakers Wednesday after he admitted the company made a payment to the hackers responsible for a ransomware attack that knocked the pipeline offline for several days.
Blount told the Wall Street Journal that Colonial Pipeline paid about $4.4 million to the ransomware group DarkSide as part of its efforts to resolve the attack that impacted fuel deliveries along the eastern seaboard. The admission drew criticism from Rep. Jim Langevin, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, who pledged to press Blount for more information at an upcoming hearing.
"Paying cyber criminals $4.4 million, while freezing out the @FBI and @CISAgov, is not ‘good for the country,’" Langevin, D-RI, wrote on Twitter. "I’ll have some questions about Blount’s judgement when he appears before @HomelandDems in a couple weeks."
While several outlets reported Colonial Pipeline had paid a ransom in a bid to regain control of its systems, Blount’s comments marked the company’s first public admission that a payment occurred. The Colonial Pipeline managed to restore service after a dayslong shutdown that prompted fears of a fuel shortage.
Blount said the company opted to pay the ransom because it was unsure of the extent of the breach. The hackers provided the company access to a decryption program following the payment, but Colonial Pipeline was not able to immediately restore operations with the tool.
"I know that’s a highly controversial decision," Blount told the newspaper. "I didn’t make it lightly. I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this. But it was the right thing to do for the country."
Langevin is one of several lawmakers who have been critical of the Colonial Pipeline’s handling the situation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., indicated last week that she believed firms should not pay ransom to hackers. Critics argue such payments could incentive hackers to pursue further attacks in the future.
Earlier this week, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, slammed company officials for not being more transparent.
"We’re disappointed that the company refused to share any specific information regarding the reported payment of ransom during today’s briefing," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. "In order for Congress to legislate effectively on ransomware, we need this information."