WASHINGTON—The pipeline company hit by a multimillion-dollar ransomware attack last month is still working to fully restore some of its computer systems, its chief executive told lawmakers Tuesday, as he defended his decision to pay hackers a ransom.
Joseph Blount of Colonial Pipeline Co. confirmed that investigators believe Russia-based hackers broke into his company’s computer system by logging into an out-of-use virtual private network that lacked the routine requirement that the user provide a second method of identity verification, such as a code sent to a registered phone number. A virtual private network, or VPN, enables employees to access corporate networks remotely and can provide some security protections.
“We are deeply sorry for the impact that this attack had,” Mr. Blount told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. During the hearing, he faced sharp questions from Democrats and Republicans about Colonial Pipeline’s cybersecurity practices, his decision to pay the hackers more than $4 million in the cryptocurrency bitcoin and the company’s communication with federal authorities during the hack.
Mr. Blount sat before the Senate panel one month after the attack on the company’s business computer systems prompted Colonial Pipeline to shut down the 5,500-mile pipeline pumping gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products from the Gulf Coast to Linden, N.J. The six-day shutdown spurred a run on gasoline along parts of the East Coast that pushed prices to the highest levels in more than six years and left thousands of gas stations without fuel.
On Monday, the Justice Department said authorities had recovered roughly $2.3 million in digital currency paid to the hackers, a suspected Russian gang known as DarkSide. The attack has prompted senior Biden administration officials to warn that ransomware represents an elevated national security risk. President Biden is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week and has said he intends to discuss ransomware attacks as a top area of concern.