Ron Johnson calls cyber attacks an 'existential' threat following Colonial Pipeline shutdown

Ron Johnson calls cyber attacks an 'existential' threat following Colonial Pipeline shutdown
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator YouTube suspends Ron Johnson for 7 days GOP senators introduce bill to make Iran deal subject to Senate approval MORE (R-Wis.) said Sunday that the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that forced its shutdown exposed the “vulnerabilities” in the U.S. electrical grid that could pose an “existential” threat to the country’s energy system. 

Colonial Pipeline, which runs gasoline and jet fuel from Texas to New York, announced Saturday that it had officially returned to “normal operations” a week after it was forced to shut down following a ransomware attack on its infrastructure. 

The FBI later confirmed that the cyber criminal gang DarkSide, based in Eastern Europe, was behind the attack.

While the company said that it had no plans to pay the ransom, Bloomberg News later reported that it had paid nearly $5 million to the group within hours of the attack.

The White House later declined to confirm whether a payment took place. 

Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview with John Catsimatidis on his WABC 770 AM radio show that there are “no easy solutions” to cybersecurity threats.

However, the country should take away from the Colonial Pipeline hack “how incredibly vulnerable our fuel grid is, our electrical grid is.” 

Johnson argued that President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s plans to transition the U.S. to cleaner energy could further increase the vulnerability of America’s energy systems. 

“We are a fossil fuel fuel-based economy and will be a fossil fuel-based economy for decades,” the Wisconsin senator argued. “We need to recognize that, harden our grid under that reality, and don’t make ourselves more vulnerable with the Green New Deal.” 

Last month Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSimmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyClimate progressives launch first action against Biden amid growing frustration Senate Democrats urge Google to conduct racial equity audit Senate climate advocates start digging in on infrastructure goals MORE (D-Mass.) reintroduced a resolution in support of a Green New Deal, including transitioning the country to zero-emission energy sources and removing pollution through investing in zero-emission vehicles, public transit and high-speed rail. 

Republicans have consistently opposed the Green New Deal, dismissing it as an extreme proposal that would give the government too much power over energy production. 

Johnson in his interview said that a transition to solar panels or other forms of renewable energy could also make the country more vulnerable to cyber attacks. 

“With everybody hooking up their solar panels and hooking into the grid so they can get a few shekels for the electricity they’re selling into the grid, we become more and more vulnerable,” he argued, adding that doing so will create “more points of contact that cyber-attackers can exploit.” 

“We really need to change the direction we’re headed in here,” he continued. “No administration has paid sufficient attention to the vulnerabilities of our electrical grid.” 

“This could be existential,” Johnson said. 

John Catsimatidis is an investor for The Hill.