finance

FBI director sees ‘parallels’ between ransomware threat and 9/11


The FBI has compared a recent string of cyber-attacks on US government and corporate entities to defense difficulties presented by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Christopher Wray, the FBI director, also revealed that the agency is investigating about 100 kinds of ransomware, with many tracing back to criminal operators in Russia.

“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” Wray told the Wall Street Journal.

“There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American,” he added.

Wray’s comments come in the wake of two recent major ransomware attacks, which targeted the US meat processing and oil and gas industries, bringing their operations temporarily to a halt. Cyber-attacks have also been perpetrated on several local governments’ online systems.

JBS, which supplies more than 20% of all beef in America, revealed that all of its US beef plants were forced offline last Sunday due to a ransomware attack.

The company, which has since resumed operations, had to halt while rushing to restore functionality. This attack is thought to have originated in Russia.

Colonial Pipeline, which operates the largest US fuel pipeline, confirmed on 19 May that it paid $4.4m to a group of hackers who breached its computer systems two weeks prior.

Company officials said they took the pipeline offline to prevent the ransomware from potentially spreading to its operational controls.

Colonial Pipeline transports about 45% of gasoline used on the US east coast.

The nearly week-long stoppage spurred some panic buying and gas shortages at filling stations, driving prices up.

While these attacks on gas, oil and meat businesses were the most high-profile of late, Wray said they comprise a fraction of ransomware variants now being investigated by federal authorities.

Each of the 100 types of ransomware had affected from about 12 to 100 targets, Wray explained.

“The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with,” Wray told the newspaper.

The Biden administration has been in contact with Russia about the JBS cyber-attack. “JBS notified the administration that the ransom demand came from a criminal organization likely based in Russia. The White House is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals,” the White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.



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