FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the complexity of the threat facing the U.S. through cyberattacks is comparable to the threat from terrorism two decades ago.
Wray compared recent ransomware attacks to 9/11 during an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He did not compare the severity of the cyberattacks to 9/11 in which 3,000 Americans died, but said that each threat is similarly difficult to combat and prevent.
“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 Journal in a Thursday interview. “There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.”
Last week, hackers shut down the JBS S.A., a Brazilian company and the largest meat processor in the world. The cyberattack temporarily shut down about 20% of meat processing facilities in the United States.
The Biden administration said Tuesday that the attack likely originated from a group in Russia. White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the U.S. is “engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals.”
“Combating ransomware is a priority for the administration,” Jean-Pierre continued. “President Biden has already launched a rapid strategic review to address the increased threat of ransomware to include four lines of effort: one, distribution of ransomware infrastructure and actors working closely with the private sector; two, building an international coalition to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable; expanding cryptocurrency analysis to find and pursue criminal transaction; and reviewing the USG’s ransomware policies.”
In early May, hackers caused significant disruption to U.S. fuel supply, shutting down a major pipeline and causing widespread, short-term fuel shortages. As The Daily Wire reported at the time:
In what was called “the most significant and successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of in the United States, a cyberattack was launched on the largest refined products pipeline in the United States, the Colonial Pipeline, on Friday, and if the subsequent outage is not corrected within days, the eastern half of the United States, which reportedly receives 45% of fuel from the pipeline, could see a surge in gas, oil, and diesel prices.
One expert told Politico the ransomware attack was “the most significant and successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of in the United States.” Politico reported, “The attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which runs 5,500 miles and provides nearly half the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used on the East Coast, most immediately affected some of the company’s business-side computer systems — not the systems that directly run the pipelines themselves. The Georgia-based company said it shut down the pipelines as a precaution and has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to investigate the incident.”
Wray said that the problem and scope of the cyber threat to Americans is much greater than the country at large realizes. The attacks knocking out significant portions of U.S. food and fuel supply were conducted with just two of 100 different types of ransomware the FBI is investigating and attempting to defend against.
“The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with,” Wray said, according to the Journal. He stopped short of blaming Russia for the cyberattacks, but said that Russia has not attempted to stop hacker groups within its own borders targeting other countries.
“Time and time again, a huge portion of those traced back to actors in Russia. And so, if the Russian government wants to show that it’s serious about this issue, there’s a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we’re not seeing right now,” Wray said.
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