FBI Director Likens Security Threat Posed by Ransomware to 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the national security threat posed by ransomware attacks on the U.S. is akin to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Wray made the comparison in a new interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” Wray said. “There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.”

The director’s remarks come as the U.S. government and the private sector cope with the ramifications of two recent ransomware attacks on the world’s largest meat supplier JBS Foods and the Colonial Pipeline.

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Wray said that although the high-profile attacks of late have put a spotlight on the issue, the country still needs to “come to terms” with the scope of the problem.

“Now realizing it can affect them when they’re buying gas at the pump or buying a hamburger — I think there’s a growing awareness now of just how much we’re all in this fight together,” Wray said, adding, “The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with.”

This week the Justice Department announced they will apply protocols normally used to combat terrorism to cybersecurity. And the White House issued an open letter urging American companies to step up their anti-ransomware security measures to disrupt and deter attacks.

“Much as our homes have locks and alarm systems and our office buildings have guards and security to meet the threat of theft, we urge you to take ransomware seriously and ensure your corporate cyberdefenses match the threat,” Deputy National Security Adviser Anne Neuberger wrote.

Ransomware hackers seize a victim’s data and then look to profit by demanding payment for an encryption key to recover the data. According to Reuters, “Ransomware gangs collected almost $350 million last year, up threefold from 2019.”

Following the JBS meat processing attack, which the U.S. government says likely came from a criminal organization in Russia, the White House said President Biden will discuss the topic with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month when the two leaders are scheduled to meet in Geneva.

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