Biden condemns ransomware attack on US pipeline as criminal

Defending strategy, president rejects idea people turning down jobs due to benefits

US president Joe Biden denounced Friday's cyberattack on a key oil pipeline in the United States as a "criminal act", stating that Russia has a responsibility to deal with the issue, even if not directly involved.

The FBI said the cyber criminal group DarkSide was behind the attack that has taken the Colonial Networks pipeline offline for several days. Mr Biden said that US intelligence believes that the group's ransomware is based in Russia.

"So far there is no evidence from our intelligence people that Russia is involved, although there is some evidence that the actor's ransomware is based in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this," he said in response to questions from reporters at the White House on Monday, noting he is due to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin soon.

The cyberattack has struck at the heart of a privately-owned pipeline that carries approximately half of the east coast of America’s fuel supply. Colonial Networks says it hopes to be back online at the end of the week.


Ransomware attacks work by infiltrating computer systems and demanding money to unlock those systems, and have become increasingly popular among hackers in recent years.

Homeland security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said that while there were no supply shortages reported, the administration was preparing for multiple contingencies.

Rescue plan

Administration officials also declined to speculate as to whether the company paid a ransom, noting that, despite its national strategic importance, the pipeline is run by a private entity.

Mr Biden also defended his economic strategy, following criticism that the unemployment benefits offered in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan have disincentivised people from going back to work as the Covid-19 pandemic eases. It follows disappointing jobs numbers last week, and reports by employers that they are finding it difficult to find staff.

While Mr Biden said the administration did not see much evidence that unemployment payments were discouraging people from taking up jobs, he noted that people could not access federal unemployment payments if they turned down a suitable job. “The law is clear. If you’re receiving unemployment benefits and you’re offered a suitable job, you can’t refuse that job and just keep getting the unemployment benefits,” he said.

“No one should be allowed to game the system,” he continued. “But let’s not take our eye off the ball. Families who are just trying to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head, they are not the problem.

‘Decent wage’

“We will insist that the law is followed with respect to benefits but we’re not going to turn our backs on our fellow Americans – 22 million people lost their jobs during this pandemic through no fault of their own.”

He urged employers to play their part in making the labour market work.  Noting that the American Rescue Plan had included generous payments to employers, he said, “It was the right thing to do, but my expectation is that as the economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe working environments.”

He said that companies needed to “pay a decent wage” and encourage employees to get vaccinated.

“Our economy can’t achieve its full potential until we get more people vaccinated,” he said.

His comments came as fast-food chain Chipotle announced it would raise its average wage in a bid to attract workers. McDonalds and other restaurant businesses have reported difficulty in attracting staff.

Mr Biden said on Monday that one reason more people were not re-entering the workforce was the lack of childcare provision and announced new funds to expand childcare offerings at state level. “With these funds, states can help hundreds of thousands of [childcare] providers reopen and stay open,” he said.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent