Episode 84: Gassholes

In the eighty-fourth episode of The Latest, we hoard barrels of Colonial Pipeline gasoline next to our unused supply of Charmin. Louisiana native C. Jaye Miller joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 84: Gassholes


Those voices are discussing Colonial Pipeline, which is either an oil company struggling to recover from a ransomware attack or a toll-free-number for loose tobacco supplies.

As the east coast struggles to refuel, many across the country find themselves asking the same question: how far can this thing go on empty?

On Friday, a group of hackers forced Colonial Pipeline to take its oil operations completely offline, preventing a large chunk of the country from enjoying their nightly viewing of Gas Station TV.

As the country’s largest fuel pipeline, Colonial’s operations transport petroleum throughout the southeast from Houston, Texas, TripAdvisor’s seventh worst city for barbecue in the United States, all the way to to Newark, New Jersey, TripAdvisor’s ninth best city for barbecue in the United States. 

The hack disrupted 45% of the east coast’s supply of diesel, gas, and jet fuel was disrupted as hackers sought a ransom payment in exchange for 100 gigabytes of stolen data, or about the equivalent of Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Goes to Camp, and Ernest Scared Stupid on Blu Ray. 

Darkside, the hacking collective that that doubles as an Eastern European Pink Floyd cover band, has owned up to the attack, casually taking credit as if they’re the ones who ordered the anchovy pizza for the table. 

Since Wednesday, it’s also claimed to have hacked an additional three companies and acquired passwords, financial information, and other personal data that’s already been leaked onto the open web by your Facebook account. 

But almost immediately after last week’s attack, the group posted a message of regret on their website, claiming that they hope to “avoid social consequences in the future,” because their goal is to “make money, not create problems for society.” So, I guess they’re not hackers; they’re a corporation. 

Motorists throughout the eastern seaboard formed lines for gasoline — the Carolinas aren’t interested in queuing up for 6 milliliters worth of free, surplus coronavirus vaccines, but they’ll happily wait hours to be price gouged for a thousandth of a gallon of fuel. 

As up to 80% of gas stations in some areas go without regular, premium, or ultra, President Biden has urged the public, “Don’t panic,” in hopes of preventing hoarding of supplies that can’t even be used to effectively clean your ass.

While the pipeline is in the process of becoming fully operational again, it’s believed that it may take weeks for stations to get back to normal — so if you really need that 60oz Mountain Dew and Slim Jim, better head to 7-11 on foot.

I’ve talked a lot about cyber attacks on this program, like the relatively recent attempt to poison a Florida water treatment facility with a substance other than bath salts. 

But unlike a lot of other wide scale operations, like the Sony Pictures hack that primarily affected a James Franco film, where it’s hard to know who to root for, this is the first major example I can think of that’s directly impacted the American general public at large.

Not that public services haven’t been targeted before — the governments of cities like Atlanta and Baltimore have been faced with this same problem, as have hospitals, schools, and anywhere else someone at work’s gullible enough to click a link in an email from the DMV claiming that your car’s under arrest. 

But this wasn’t some invisible data breach or digital kidnapping at a software company — shutting down a pipeline and causing a run on the gas bank has a tangible, real-world feel. 

And in this instance, the hackers claim that they didn’t mean for this to get so out of hand. Imagine how much less gasoline you could have stored in the trunk had your city went through with that ban on plastic bags.

I’m not trying to be alarmist here because, frankly, I don’t see how we put this ransomware genie gets put back into his external hard drive, let alone his bottle.

But what’s worrisome about this episode is that the prospect having to go a few days without a trip to the Speedway immediately jumped to hoarding, just like the first whiff of the virus last year meant it was time scour every Costco in town for a metric ton of Jasmine Rice. 

Now, I don’t imagine planes are going to start falling out of the sky anytime soon, like it’s Y2K all over again, but it’s not hard to picture people taking desperate measures should Comcast and ConEd go down for a month. 

In 2014, long before he decided to sprinkle dill weed into the popcorn shaker of democracy, former FBI Director James Comey declared that there are two kinds of big companies in the United States: those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese, and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked by the Chinese.

Even though this particular attack is believed to be linked to Russia, the principle is exactly the same: unlike your parents, we know how to get into a computer.

Not counting the shirt you bought in four installments using AfterPay, we’re not really a nation of long term planning.

But if we don’t start taking this kind of security seriously at the individual level — the level in which our most gullible cousin really believes it’s time to renew their car’s extended war-an-tee — we’re likely to wind up resembling a barrel of light, sweet crude: deep in the dark.