The FBI on Ransomware: The Latest Terrorist Threat

Ransomware threats have been on the rise across the nation, leaving many businesses struggling with the complex aftermath of data loss, lack of access to their vital systems, and the decision to pay–or not pay–an expensive ransom in order to get that access back. Now, the FBI is acknowledging the full extent of those threats–and even naming it a crime on the level with terrorism. In fact, FBI Director Christopher Wray has compared the current influx of cyberattacks with the level of threat and challenge posed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Ransomware Attacks Disrupt Supply Chains and Create Impact Felt Across the Country

The problem with cyberattacks is obvious: not only do they cause an immediate disruption to the company hit by the attack, but they can also cause disruption to the entire supply chain–including disruption felt across the country.

Supply chain attacks, of course, are a familiar experience across the United States. Consider, for example, the SolarWinds attack in early 2020, which attacked a system used to manage IT resources; or the NotPetya attack of 2017, which wiped vital data across banks, airports, and even senior government officials’ accounts. The latest spate of attacks, however, are creating increasing urgency across industries.

The Colonial Pipeline attack disrupted the gas supply to the East Coast, leaving many residents feeling vulnerable and ultimately causing gasoline shortages and an increase in gas prices at the pumps. The JBS attack caused a shortage in available meat in many areas–and disruption to shipping that could quickly cause many customers to panic yet again.

These disruptions are creating significant challenges across America. Many consumers start panic buying when news of a shortage first comes their way. They jump to make sure they have a personal stockpile of the goods that are being challenged, which in turn leads to greater shortages. Ransomware has the power to create these shortages and disruptions–and hackers are increasingly taking advantage of that risk.

The FBI is stepping up to the plate, starting with an acknowledgment of the ransomware challenge and what they mean for the nation as a whole. By placing them on the level of terrorist attacks, they show their willingness to go after these cybercriminals with the resources necessary to help avoid some of the ongoing challenges, shutting down those threats at their source.

The Problem with Ransomware: What It Does

Ransomware shuts down your system by encrypting vital data. Sometimes, it hits your stored data alone. Other times, however, ransomware can bring your entire network cascading down as it encrypts system data and prevents your servers from running. In some cases, ransomware can lock down a system so tightly that you can no longer do anything on it.

Until you pay the ransom, your data is held hostage.

Sometimes, however, even paying the ransom isn’t enough. Some hackers do not have the encryption key for their ransomware, which means it could rampage through your system without end–and you might have no means, even paying a costly ransom, to bring it back online. In the meantime, your employees cannot work, your customers cannot shop, and you cannot supply your products. That supply chain disruption can quickly cascade through an industry, creating universal impact that can devastate small businesses and consumers.

Thanks to that immense awareness, the Department of Justice is now prioritizing ransomware attacks much the same way it does terrorism inquiries. “It’s a specialized process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country, so you can make the connections between actors and work your way up to disrupt the whole chain,” notes John Carlin, principal associate deputy attorney general. While the federal government is certainly increasing its focus and its determination to take down ransomware attacks, as FBI director Christopher Wray points out, “There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.” Defeating ransomware isn’t something that the government can do alone. It starts within your business’s security and the training you provide your employees.

How Can You Protect Against Ransomware?

As the Colonial Pipeline and JBS attacks have shown, even big businesses are vulnerable to ransomware attacks–and those attacks can cause immense disruption. While you might not be able to avoid them in your own business completely, there are several steps you can take to decrease the impact of ransomware attacks on your business.

1. Make sure you have comprehensive cybersecurity protections.

If your cybersecurity protections catch ransomware before it has a chance to infect your whole system, it can isolate the infected area of your network, shut down attacks, or even prevent them from hitting in the first place. A cybersecurity provider can ensure that you have the tools necessary to offer those protections to your network.

2. Train your employees to recognize potential threats and problems.

More cybersecurity attacks make it into the system due to employee error than for any other reason. An employee clicks on a suspicious link or accepts a malicious download, and suddenly, your entire system can go down. Make sure your employees know how to recognize those threats and stop them before they start. You never know when your employees might be able to avoid a massive ransomware attack just by avoiding unsafe actions online. In addition, make sure employees know what a ransomware attack might look like and how to respond if it starts to overtake the system.

3. Check your backup solutions regularly.

You need backups that are completely separate from your existing network so that even if ransomware attacks your primary files, you can still access your backups. Robust backups can bring your business back to normal and help maintain operations without having to pay a ransom–and as attackers find themselves increasingly unsuccessful, it may help prevent future attacks.

Do you have an effective backup solution, wide employee training, and cybersecurity measures that will help keep your business safe in the event of an attack? We can help. Contact us today to learn more about our cybersecurity solutions.

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