Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack

Colonial Pipeline President and CEO Joseph Blount was grilled by lawmakers Tuesday on his decision to pay hackers in a ransomware attack that forced a temporary shutdown of operations — and led to gas shortages in parts of the country.

During a sometimes-tense Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Blount indicated that the company did not consult with the FBI and other agencies before it paid the equivalent of $4.4 million in bitcoin to regain control of its systems.

“It was our understanding that the decision was solely ours as a private company to make the decision about whether to pay or not to pay,” Blount said in response to a question from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the panel’s chairman.

“Considering the consequences of potentially not bringing the pipeline back on as quickly as I possibly could, I chose the option to make the ransom payment,” he said.

Blount apologized for the impact of the attack but stressed that he had no regrets.

“I believe with all my heart it was the right choice to make,” Blount testified.

Colonial provides 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel. Shortages were seen in several states for more than a week following the shutdown.

Blount’s testimony came a day after Justice Department officials announced that they had recovered the majority of the ransom paid by Colonial to the DarkSide ransomware group.