A task force of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors has been formed as an acknowledgment of the growing threat posed by ransom-ware attacks
After a year that officials say was the costliest on record for the crippling cyber-attacks, the Justice Department is taking new aim at ransom-ware attacks.
A task force of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors has been formed as an acknowledgment of the growing threat posed by ransom-ware attacks, in which hackers lock up computer data and demand ransom payments in order to give it back. To bolster the digital security of the nation’s electricity supply, the force is part of a broader government effort to combat cyber-attacks that target vital infrastructure, including a 100-day Biden administration initiative announced on Tuesday.
Ransom-ware attacks have led to the temporary closure of school classes, impeded hospital operations and caused other chaos. In terms of the economic toll, with ransom demands to victims averaging over $100,000 and in some cases totalling tens of millions of dollars, last year was the worst to date, according to the Justice Department.
“Ransom-ware can have devastating human and financial consequences,” John Carlin, the acting deputy attorney general, wrote in a staff memo dated Tuesday and provided Wednesday by the Justice Department. “When criminals target critical infrastructure such as hospitals, utilities, and municipal networks, their activity jeopardizes the safety and health of Americans”.
Lisa Monaco was confirmed on Tuesday evening as the department’s new deputy attorney general.
Related to ransom-ware attacks, the Justice Department has brought indictments including a 2018 case against two Iranian nationals whose many victims included the cities of Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, and resulted in losses of $30 million. Federal prosecutors have also accused North Korean computer programmers of creating a global ransom-ware campaign dubbed WannaCry 2.0.
But the threat has grown more sophisticated.
As it imposed sanctions on Russia last week for election interference and the hacking of federal agencies, the Treasury Department alleged that Russian intelligence had enabled ransom-ware attacks by cultivating and co-opting criminal hackers and giving them safe harbour.
Against the backdrop, to disrupt ransom-ware attacks and prosecute the hackers responsible for them, the task force is aimed at enhancing the department’s ability including through more training and resources and a greater focus on intelligence. Another purpose is to improve partnerships with the private sector, including by encouraging victim companies to come forward and report attacks, and with other federal and international agencies.
The task force will include representatives from the Justice Department’s criminal and national security divisions, among others.