Episode 214: Darkside Down: What The Colonial Attack Means For The Future of Ransomware

In this episode of the podcast (#214), Brandon Hoffman, the CISO of Intel 471 joins us to discuss the recent ransomware attack on the Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, and the suspected group behind it: DarkSide a ransomware for hire cybercrime outfit.


It was just a week ago, May 7th, 2021, that a successful cyberattack against one of the largest U.S. oil and gas pipelines, operated by the Colonial Pipeline Company, forced it to shut down and plunged the U.S. government into an unanticipated crisis. Within days, there were reports of consumers panic-buying petrol leading to gas shortages in the southeastern United States.

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Then, almost as suddenly as the crisis appeared it was over. Colonial, which was reported to have paid the Darkside group a $5 million ransom to regain access to their servers, announced that it would restore pipeline operations by the end of the week. And, in a message to a private forum on Thursday captured by the firm Intel 471, the ransomware group credited with the attack, known as “Darkside,” said that it was shutting down after its blog, payment server and Internet infrastructure were seized by law enforcement and cryptocurrency from a Darkside controlled payment server was diverted to what was described as an “unknown account.” 

An image of the message posted by the Darkside group ceasing operations. (Image courtesy of intel 471.)

Other news reports suggests the cyber criminal underground was getting skittish about ransomware groups, now that the full force of the U.S. government appears to be focused on rooting them out. Reports out Friday claim that the Russian cyber hacking forum XSS has banned all topics related to ransomware

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What happened? And who – or what – is the Darkside group responsible for the Colonial pipeline attack? We invited Brandon Hoffman, CISO at the firm Intel 471 back into the studio to talk about Darkside, which Intel 471 has followed and profiled in depth since it emerged last summer.

“They (DarkSide) don’t necessarily want to have their affiliates attack Critical Infrastructure or the government.”

-Brandon Hoffman, CISO Intel 471

The quick collapse seen in recent days may be a case of Darkside biting off more than it can chew by attacking a target that managed to put it in the cross hairs of the U.S. government. But, as we discuss, the Colonial Pipeline hack also raises a number of questions regarding the state of America’s Critical Infrastructure, and whether it is secure enough to withstand both directed and opportunistic attacks. “Ransomware is no longer a cybercrime problem, it’s really a national security issue,” Brandon tells me.

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In this conversation, Brandon briefs us on DarkSide and outlines the group’s motivations and processes when it works with affiliates and targets victims. The attack on Colonial will almost certainly prompt changes by attackers, which will be wary of inviting retaliation from nations like the U.S.

Carolynn van Arsdale (@Carolynn_VA) contributed to this story.


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