The Colonial Pipeline Hackers Say They Just Wanted Money, Not Chaos

If they’re looking for enduring happiness, they won’t find it in their extortion games.

I’ve noticed in the last week or so, that gas prices sure seemed high for this early in the year. It wasn’t until I had read the news of the Colonial Pipeline hack on the east coast, that I understood why. The hacker group, The Dark Side had installed ransomware on servers owned and operated by a pipeline company, encrypting files and making life difficult for millions of people.

I heard that The Dark Side had managed to shut down 45% of the nation’s oil supply with one hack. This of course spiked gas prices and caused more than a thousand gas stations to run out of gas. The Dark Side has managed to extract $5 million from their victim, and supposedly, after they got their money, they released the data for their victims. I have heard that this ransomware business is growing because people are paying to get their data back.

Then I heard that The Dark Side apologized. How nice of them to apologize. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.” I guess their expectations were pretty low. They didn’t think that upending business operations at a company that transports 45% of the nation’s oil supply would be too inconvenient for other people who actually work for a living.

I think we can summarize what The Dark Side did in very simple terms. Create a crisis. Extract money from the crisis. Resolve the crisis. Throughout the entire process, nothing of value was created, but boy, did they make some money. They will take that money to upskill their team. They will buy better ransomware, too. They will build better social engineering skills so that they can go after bigger targets for even more money. I bet they’re gonna be high for a week after getting paid so well for creating almost nothing.

The victim, Colonial Pipeline, will have learned a nasty lesson. They will be lighter somewhat in the pocketbook. They probably have business continuity insurance to keep things going, and to cover their losses. The insurance company will pay, and their investigators will try to track down the path that the money took to get to the recipients. Colonial paid the Dark Side 75 bitcoin, or about $5 million. The bitcoin blockchain may be anonymous, but it’s public. It will always lead to a banking institution somewhere to turn crypto into cash.

We will see a ladder vs wall arms race between the hackers and the victims. Businesses will get better at avoiding the social engineering that gets people to click on links in emails. They will become more vigilant about disciplining people who click on those links. Security systems will get better at sifting out the hacks in emails. People will become more diligent about reporting anything that even looks like spam or phishing emails.

But those hackers. They aren’t creating anything useful. They aren’t helping anyone. They’re actually creating a subtle form of inflation by increasing the costs of doing business. If they really thought this through, they’d see that they’re working against themselves. Whatever money they made from their ransomware will incur costs to everyone else, increasing the very costs they sought to avoid. Even if they got “free money” they’re not doing any useful work to get it. That lack of effort, human effort, decreases the value of any money they have received.

I can recall some of the characters I heard about early on in my place of work, in the first couple of years that I started the job that I have now. I remember one guy who watched YouTube all day. I remember another guy who just could not follow the script to get the job done right, he kept doing some of the procedures in reverse. Neither one of them lasted, and both of them will have spent months if not years, recovering from their errors. Roughly the same amount of effort will have been spent doing the job right as to do the job wrong. Watching YouTube at work makes me really uncomfortable, every bit as much as doing things in the wrong order. I must have a conscience.

They say inflation is what occurs when too much money is chasing too few goods. Those hackers weren’t producing anything that people could buy. The Dark Side actually reduced the supply of things that people could buy, decreasing the number of goods available for people to buy with the money in circulation, and that increases the price people pay for fewer goods.

Their victims were in the business of delivering a product that people could buy. With more of the product available the costs for the product will decrease. The Dark Side actually decreased the value of the money received with their hack. The members of that hacker gang seem blissfully unaware of the following wisdom, something about the Laws Of Thermodynamics:

Zeroth Law: You must play the game.

First Law: You can’t win the game.

Second Law: You can’t break even in the game.

Third Law: You can’t quit the game.

Clearly, the hackers of the world are interested in extracting something for nothing, or at least, for little effort. But like the rest of us, they are caught in this illusion that through technology we can get something for nothing. Yet, even our best technology tells us that there are no perfect machines and that we can never get a 100% return on energy expended in any effort. At least some of our effort is always lost to the universe.

There are no isolated systems. You cannot, dear hacker, separate your fate from mine. if you take from me, you take from yourself as well. If you give to me, you give to yourself as well. I have reached a point myself where I stopped keeping score. I have it fixed in my mind now that I cannot hurt someone without hurting myself, and that anyone who hurts me, hurts himself, too.

Those hackers, successful though they may be this time, clearly have not thought through their business model, in its entirety, and in universal terms. They are confused in thinking that they can take from the universe without giving something back. And the universe will always get its due, back. You can call it Karma, consequences, just desserts, whatever. It always comes back.

This is why I talk and think so much about gratitude. If you go back in my history on Medium, you’ll see many articles like this one, A Quantum Of Happiness, where I talk about the process of happiness and where it comes from, and how we can create it. I like to think of happiness as if it were a field that is always there, always ready for us to tap into it. We get to choose to tap into happiness at any time, at all times. With some luck, The Dark Side gang members may come to know that happiness is an inside job.

The Dark Side may have made some money a few days ago, but the high they got from the hack, and the money are fleeting. Their actions will not form a sound foundation for happiness. They will not find enduring satisfaction from their work. They will always seek another high, like the addict in the opium den, but the universe will always be there, waiting to get paid back. The universe, by its very nature, favors creation over destruction. Whatever we create, is our payment to the universe for whatever we have already received.

Write on.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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