WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is issuing increasingly urgent warnings about high-profile ransomware attacks that have caused widespread gas shortages, shutdowns of meat processing plants and crippled hospitals, as… officials stepped up efforts to combat cyberattacks.
Christopher A. Wray, director of the FBI, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday that the ransomware threat is comparable to the challenge of global terrorism in the days following the incident. September 11, 2001 attack.
“There are a lot of similarities, a lot of importance, and we focus a lot on preventing and disrupting incidents,” Mr. Wray said. “There is a shared responsibility, not only between government agencies but also between the private sector and even ordinary Americans.”
The FBI, Wray said, is investigating 100 different software variants that have been used in different ransomware attacks, showing the scale of the problem.
Mr Wray’s comments come after the Biden administration warned businesses on Thursday that they needed to take urgent steps to improve cybersecurity and defend against ransomware attacks. One such attack this week on a meat processing company, JBS, forced the closure of nine beef plants and disrupted poultry and pork production. Last year, a series of ransomware attacks on hospitals caused widespread concern.
A ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline in May eventually forced the company to shut down one of the nation’s largest fuel pipelines, causing gasoline shortages across the East Coast. Immediately after that attack, US officials said Colonial’s cyber defenses were far from sufficient and it did too little to defend itself.
Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts an organization’s data, making it unusable until it pays a cybercriminal. Colonial Pipeline paid millions of dollars to free its data.
While most ransomware attacks are carried out by criminal networks, some Russian and Chinese groups operate with the tacit blessing of their governments. In turn, some criminal groups work for that country’s spy agencies and take steps to ensure local companies are not affected.
Wray told The Journal that Russia is harboring some of the most dangerous ransomware groups.
“If the Russian government wants to show that it’s serious about this, there’s a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we haven’t seen yet,” Wray said.
The Biden administration is looking for ways to pressure the Russian government to crack down on its cybercrime. Officials expect Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to raise the issue of cybersecurity at an upcoming summit with Mr. Biden.
Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, wrote in an open letter to corporations on Thursday that the Biden administration is working with partners to “disrupt and prevent” attacks. Ms. Neuberger noted “the recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations.”
Mr. Wray’s comment builds on Ms. Neuberger’s note. In an interview with The Journal, he said the pipeline attack showed Americans how a cyberattack can affect their daily lives.
“Now realize how it can affect them when they buy gas at the pump or buy a hamburger – I think there is now a growing awareness of the extent to which we are all in this war. together,” he told the Journal.
Ofer Israel, chief executive officer of Illusion Networks, a cybersecurity firm, said any company waiting for a warning from the federal government was acting too late. However, he added, Mr Wray’s comments and the administration’s efforts to raise the priority of responding to ransomware attacks are both welcome.
“While it can be shocking to see things like Colonial Pipeline or JBS in conversation like events like 9/11, the two are not quite the same,” Mr. Israel said. “As attackers continue to hack into our nation’s critical infrastructure, significant disruptions are expected. Without a clear direction on how to build a stronger defence, those disruptions turn out to be disastrous.”
Last month, the Biden administration issued an executive order that is meant to be the first step to beefing up cybersecurity, and includes an effort to set up review panels to study cyberattacks and collect data. Lessons Learned.
Cybersecurity experts have praised the steps taken by the Biden administration, but also said businesses must think more creatively about the type of defense they put in place.
“I think cybersecurity has largely tended to focus on cyberdefense, building nice deep and wide moats, building nice, high-end, solid walls, and focusing your efforts on trying to try to prevent enemy access,” Adm. Retired Michael S Rogers, the former director of the National Security Agency, said in an interview last month.
But Admiral Rogers, who now advises cybersecurity firms, says those types of defenses are not enough.
“The second component of cybersecurity is not just cybersecurity, but resilience,” he said. “It’s about this idea of, ‘Hey, so how am I going to continue to function when the enemy gets into my network?'”