• Matthew Spencer - Tech Journalist

US government offered a $10 million bounty for information on Colonial Pipeline hacker

In May, a ransomware hacking incident crippled a 5000-mile-long fuel pipeline causing total shutdown on operation and panic among customers. It drove fuel prices to go higher alongside the temporary shortage of fuel. A hacker group named DarkSide executed the ransomware attack, and now the US government is trying to find them. A $10 million (£7.4m) bounty is set to exchange information on the hackers.

Supply chain in natural or electric is crucial to keep wheels spinning in basically every sector of life. A simple incident can dent government funds which are not only unpleasant but also causes scarcity. The ransomware attacked pipeline that carries 45% of fuel on the west coast. So, you might imagine the troubles at that time causing massive controversies.

Though targeted attacks on the oil and gas sector are not new and it’s one of the most lucrative targets for attackers. Millions can be gained here, and DarkSide claimed the opportunity they had on their hand to cause the trouble. The oil and gas sector falls under critical infrastructure, and misbehaving caused the US government to set up a bounty that can lead to the “identification location of any individuals” for DarkSide leaders. If caught, they are looking at serious jail time.

Fuel shortage after the Colonial Pipeline company faced was quite devastating. A separate $5 million bounty is set that can lead to any information regarding anyone “conspiring to participate” in the incident. Elliptic, a cryptoanalysis company, made their research public to share information regarding the incident. They said the DarkSide hacker group received more than $90 million in ransomware payments from 47 victims. The amount is quite large and is not neglected by security authorities. Colonial Pipeline hacker group DarkSide seem to miss out on 63.7 Bitcoin paid for ransom by Colonial Pipeline as the US authorities recovered it.

The previous record for highest bounty was for Maksim Yakubets, ransomware gang Evil Corp mastermind, and before that, the title for highest reward set for hacker was $3 million.

That bounty was for cyber-crime boss Evgeniy Bogachev. These hackers seem to source from Russia most of the time, staying free from US collisions. Russian police seem to be carefree against these acquisitions from the US. So, the hackers remain relatively safe from where they execute such exploits.

The state department seems to be eager to capture these hackers or find out information regarding their hideout. Thus, $10 million and $5 million bounties are set, breaking all previous bounty records. The rewards for Justice (RfJ) program was originally established in 1984 to target international terrorism. Later, the US government concluded that the RfJ program now suits cyber-criminals, causing most damage remotely.

The State Department set up a Tor profile to receive and interact with the Colonial Pipeline hack information. Tor is known for its privacy and untraceable method of communication. So, they are trying to grab information without identifying who’s giving it. Translating no risk for the whistleblower.

(Tor-based tip line is accessible at he5dybnt7sr6cm32xt77pazmtm65flqy6irivtflruqfc5ep7eiodiad.onion

with only a tor browser. Regular browsers can’t open or view the link.)

The US Justice Department is quite hopeful they can pull this off as they recovered $2.3 million paid in ransom of the $5 million by Colonial Pipeline with Bitcoin. JBS, the worlds largest processor of meat, said they paid nearly $11 million to the Russian hacker group REvil. Previously we covered the US government is tackling the situation as, within the first half of 2021, $590 million was grabbed by ransomware attackers.

The US Treasure and the US Justice Department is working closely to tackle the situation, but questions still arise if the attacks are coming to a standstill or not.