'I know that's a highly controversial decision': Colonial Pipeline CEO on why he paid $4.4M ransom

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Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount confirmed he paid $4.4 million in bitcoin to the cybercriminal gang DarkSide on the first day of its cyberattack on the company, but it still took six days to restore operations, according to a May 19 report by The Wall Street Journal.

On May 7, a Colonial Pipeline employee found a ransom note from hackers on a computer in the control room. That night, Mr. Blount paid $4.4 million in bitcoin because company leaders didn't know how long it would take the pipeline to restore operations if they did not.

Mr. Blount said he had to pay the ransom because it could cause much more damage if his company couldn't supply fuel to regions that rely on it. The company supplies about 45 percent of the East Coast's fuel, and the shutdown resulted in gasoline shortages in the region.

"I know that's a highly controversial decision," Mr. Blount said. "I didn't make it lightly. I will admit that I wasn't comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this."

After paying the ransom, Colonial received a decryption tool to unlock its system. It was not enough to immediately restore the pipeline's operations, and Colonial was down for six days, the Journal reported.

It will take months to recover some of Colonial's business systems and will cost the company tens of millions of dollars, Mr. Blount said. The company is still unable to bill its customers since DarkSide halted its operations.

On May 14, DarkSide was forced to shut down when it was locked out of its systems and all of its bitcoin was drained from its virtual wallet. There is speculation that the U.S. was behind the attack that took down the hacker group, CNBC reported May 18.

Even though Mr. Blount has received a lot of criticism for paying the ransom, he said it was the right thing to do for the country.

"We were perfectly happy having no one know who Colonial Pipeline was, and unfortunately that's not the case anymore," he said. "Everybody in the world knows."

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