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WASHINGTON — President Biden attempted to assuage panicked Americans who have been affected by a nationwide gas shortage across the South due to a major cyberattack on a national gas line.
“Stay strong. Help is on the way,” Biden said Thursday as fuel prices spiked and ultralong lines formed at the pumps.
A ransomware attack last week by a group of hackers directed at a main U.S. pipeline managed by the company Colonial Pipeline significantly disrupted the flow of gasoline, creating fears of a shortage that soon snowballed into reality this week in many Southern states. Individuals across the dozen or so affected states began fear-purchasing gasoline, leaving many drivers unable to get adequate, or any, supply.
Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday that it will reach full operational capacity in the coming days. Biden said he expects to see a “region by region” return to normalcy beginning this weekend and next week. However, this does not mean consumers will see changes at the pump immediately, he said.
“This is not like flicking on a light switch,” Biden said. “Now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations, and it’s going to take some time.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a series of warnings and suggestions to panicked consumers via Twitter, urging them to not fill plastic bags with gasoline, among other safety measures when handling loose gas.
Biden echoed some of that messaging in his Thursday address from the White House. He urged buyers, "Don't panic,” and called for gas station owners not to take advantage of worried consumers by spiking the price of gasoline.
“Nobody should be using this situation for financial gain,” he said. “That’s what the hackers were trying to do. That’s what they are. Not us. That’s not who we are.”
Biden signed an executive order Wednesday evening as part of the White House’s larger endeavor to reduce cyberattacks. The order boosts transparency by requiring private companies working with the federal government to disclose any information about hacks, though that edict has its limitations since it still leaves large swaths of private companies able to keep their cybersecurity — or lack thereof — private.
A White House official told reporters in a briefing call that a team had been formulating this executive order since the second week of the administration and hopes its implementation will equip the government to better deal with incidents like the one involving Colonial Pipeline.
Biden said the White House does not believe the Russian government is behind the attack, despite the suspected location of the hackers.
“We don’t believe the Russian government was involved in this attack,” he said, “but we have strong reason to believe the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia.”
Biden echoed members of his Cabinet in saying this hack makes his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan even more crucial than before.
“This is an urgent reminder [of] why we need to harden our infrastructure and make it resilient against all threats, natural and man-made.”
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