FBI Director Compares Ransomware to 9/11

FBI Director Christopher Wray compared ransomware attacks on US business with the 9/11 terrorist attacks Thursday. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Wray said:

“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention.”

The journal’s report did not quote Wray naming any of those parallels to explain what he meant. On Sept. 11, 2001, members of Al Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States hijacked four large passenger airliners, in a terrorist attack that left nearly 3,000 people dead.

Cyberattacks using ransomware have increased drastically over the past year. These attacks lock up a business’s computers, and the attackers demand payment to restore service.

In a recent report, SonicWall, a cybersecurity solutions company, and former Dell subsidiary, said there were 62% more ransomware attacks globally in 2020 over 2019. In North America, that figure was 158%.

Last year, Ostra Cybersecurity, which provides cloud cybersecurity to Fortune 10 company standards, but in a modular SAAS network for small and midsize businesses, said the victims of ransomware attacks often scramble to learn bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies on the fly to pay their attackers in time to make payroll for dozens or hundreds of workers.

Why It Matters: While no one is dying in a fireball of jet fuel due to ransomware attacks, sensational headlines notwithstanding, private-sector sources estimate the damages from these cyberattacks in the range of hundreds of millions to billions of dollars every year. Commerce’s increasing reliance on networked computers, and the proliferation of cryptocurrencies create the opportunity and means for motivated thieves to step up these attacks.

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