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Fact Check: Are drivers’ panic buying of gas worsening an ongoing cyber issue?

Our findings: True. Colonial Pipeline provides millions of barrels of fuel, but thousands of gas stations are now running out of gas if they have not already. Hoarding gasoline creates communal deprivation. 

Gas station NurPhoto via Getty Images

As the national gas price average reaches $3 a gallon, getting where you are going is expensive as ever — but that is not stopping people from hoarding resources.

Colonial Pipeline, the privately-owned operator of America’s largest petroleum pipeline, experienced a cybersecurity attack on Friday (May 7). As a result, the 5,500-mile pipeline system temporarily shut down, leaving the American Southeast in ransomware-provoked disarray. The mentioned pipeline is responsible for transporting 45% of the East Coast’s gasoline. And for many Americans, fuel’s importance ranks high adjacent to daily necessities like clean water and groceries.

According to GasBuddy, an app that tracks prices and experienced shortages from the pipeline, thousands of gas stations dependent on Colonial Pipeline are entirely bare. But this affects more than the drivers on the road. The shortage impacts home heating oil and jet fuel, too. Beyond the immediate effects of the ongoing deficit, fears of its potential aftermath include long-term gas price inflation. During the ongoing pandemic, this is a cost many may not be able to afford. Coronavirus has left millions of people insecure financially, health-wise, and more.

The collective might wonder how we arrived at this abrupt consequence to begin with. Joe Blount, Colonial Pipeline’s president and chief executive officer, assured the public that his team “Colonial Pipeline is committed to excellence in everything that we do. Above all, that includes the safe operation of our pipeline.” Noted: Why could this pipeline of excellence not protect itself from hackers abroad?

According to a critical infrastructure paper related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, “...the United States is becoming more prone to failure as the average age of structures increases.” Further, NBC News reported that the “FBI says [the hackers who] attacked Colonial Pipeline are given overseas sanctuary by hostile foreign governments, out of reach of American law enforcement.” Seemingly being above consequence is possible because roughly 85% of the country’s essential resources and critical infrastructures are private-sector owned. In short, civilians compounded by the nation’s nuanced state of affairs face the brunt of this hacking’s overseas sanctuary amid compromised American cyber defenses. Colonial Pipeline’s website’s updated message board confirmed, “It will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.” Still, current scarcity mindsets and jerrycan outcomes cost more than meets the eye.

The claim: Are drivers’ panic buying of gas following the recent ransomware attack worsening an ongoing cyber issue?

Our findings: True. Colonial Pipeline provides millions of barrels of fuel, but thousands of gas stations are now running out of gas if they have not already. Hoarding gasoline creates communal deprivation.

Survivor’s mode has taken on new meaning within the past year. For the most part, the pandemic left no one unscathed. A survey conducted by the AARP found that 53% of American households have no emergency savings to weather any financial crises such as Coronavirus. Throughout history, minoritized populations have primarily been the most affected by any developing American state of emergency.

Many can attest to experiencing the inconvenience of knee-jerk reactive COVID-19 hoarders — who kept everyday people from toiletries, such as toilet paper. The fear of not providing the simplest of luxuries for ourselves or loved ones is more common than comfortably verbalized. The gas shortages from the pipeline are potentially devastating. Shift the perspective to those who may not have enough fuel to get to their place of business — when employment is presently challenging to come by.

Colonial Pipeline has a 2.5-million-barrel-per-day operation along the East Coast, and the corporation has limited alternative fuel pipelines. Yesterday in light of intermittent service interruptions, President Biden issued an executive order to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity. “We’re working around the clock with our federal, state, local, and industry partners to respond to the Colonial Pipeline cybersecurity incident,” Deputy Energy Secretary Dave Turk announced via Twitter a day prior.

Considering these events, filling multiple containers and taking more gas than you need is particularly harmful to low-income citizenries. As of 3:00 PM CST yesterday (May 12), Patrick De Haan, Head Of Petroleum Analysis at GasBuddy, confirmed that North Carolina’s gasoline outage reached 68%, Virginia peaked at 49%, and Georgia followed suit at 45%. According to the World Population Review, each state’s second-largest race population is Black people.

We can better protect everyday people at large with an ethos of camaraderie. If you deem yourself an ally, then share. New research by Today in Energy from the U.S. Energy Information Administration says, “As of Monday (May 10), the pipeline had not resumed operations of its main lines. The company announced that it hopes to restore service by the end of the week. Until Colonial Pipeline resumes operation, petroleum distribution terminals in the Southeast will rely on inventories and supplies obtained from alternative sources.”

Presently, there are no guarantees. The Department of Energy does not feature an updated memo concerning the list of state-by-state open-ended states of emergency on its newsroom page. And while it is speculated throughout the media, President Biden initially announced no evidence indicated the fuel attack involved the Russian government. He later retracted his statement noting, Russia has “some responsibility.” The FBI confirmed that the DarkSide Ransomware is responsible for the compromise of the Colonial Pipeline networks.

The DarkSide Ransomware collective, believed to run mainly out of Eastern Europe, wrote on its website, “Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.” Still, the Southeast U.S. fuel disturbance is irrefutable. The New York Times documented, “Federal investigators said the attackers were aimed at poorly protected corporate data.” And negotiating with a company that investigative journalist, Brian Krebs, estimated to earn approximately 15 billion annually, proved to be profitable. Bloomberg later published, Colonial Pipeline has already “...paid nearly $5 million to Eastern European hackers.”

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