Washington (CNN)FBI Director Christopher Wray likened the challenge posed by the recent spate of damaging ransomware attacks on the US to the September 11 terrorist attacks and called for a similar sense of urgency and response in a new interview.
“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” Mr. Wray said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. “There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.”
“The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with,” he added.
The comments underscore growing alarm within the highest levels of the US government following the back-to-back attacks on JBS Foods and Colonial Pipeline, which not only demonstrated the impact such attacks can have on the day-to-day lives of everyday Americans but the nation’s inability to guard against them. The Justice Department this week signaled that it plans to coordinate its anti-ransomware efforts with the same protocols as it does for terrorism and the White House issued a rare open letter to companies calling on them to treat the threat of ransomware attacks with greater urgency.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on Thursday issued an internal memo directing US prosecutors to report all ransomware investigations they may be working on, in a move designed to better coordinate the US government’s tracking of online criminals.
The memo cites ransomware — malicious software that seizes control of a computer until the victim pays a fee — as an urgent threat to the nation’s interests.
“We must enhance and centralize our internal tracking of investigations and prosecutions of ransomware groups and the infrastructure and networks that allow these threats to persist,” Monaco wrote.
And in a letter sent out from the White House, the National Security Council’s top cyber official, Anne Neuberger, wrote to corporate executives and business leaders that the private sector needs to better understand its critical role.
“All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location,” Neuberger wrote. “We urge you to take ransomware crime seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defense match the threat.”
In the Journal interview, Wray singled out the Russian government for allowing the cyber actors that the United States and others believe are behind the recent Colonial and JBS attacks to continue operating in Russia.
“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.
President Joe Biden will address the JBS attack as well as the increased threat of cyber attacks while meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month in Geneva, the White House has said.
The administration is not “taking any options off the table” in response to the incident, press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing this week.
CNN’s Brian Fung, Zachary Cohen, Alex Marquardt and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.