FBI Chief Christopher Wray Says All Americans Impacted by Cyberattacks

The recent cyberattacks in the U.S., namely on JBS and Colonial Pipeline, show that modern-day cyberattacks impact all Americans, the FBI director has said.

FBI chief Christopher Wray made the comments just days after JBS, the world's largest meat-packing company, was hit by a ransomware attack believed to be linked to Russia, causing a widespread disruption of its plants.

Several JBS plants in Australia, Canada, the United States, were affected by the breach and global meat prices rose following the cyberattack, which the FBI has been investigating.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on Friday, Wray revealed that the FBI is investigating around 100 different types of ransomware attacks, many of which trace back to hackers in Russia.

Ransomware is a type of malicious computer code that locks the victim network's files. In exchange for the release of the files, hackers typically demand a ransom, often in cryptocurrency.

Wray compared the challenge posed by ransomware attacks on large corporations, NGOs, and branches of government to the problems presented by the September 11 terrorist attacks, highlighting how the recent attacks have impacted all Americans.

"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."

He said that people are "now realizing it can affect them when they're buying gas at the pump or buying a hamburger," adding that there is a "growing awareness" of how cyberwarfare impacts all Americans.

Speaking on the origin of the cyberattacks, Wray said Moscow was often to blame.

"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," he said.

The White House believes that the JBS hack, which was reported last Sunday, is linked to Russian hackers. The company's beef-processing factory in Cactus, Texas, was shut on Tuesday, the plant said on Facebook. The Greeley meat-packing plant in ColoradoJBS's largest U.S. slaughterhousealso saw shifts being canceled. The meat-packing company also canceled shifts at its beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, Canada.

The hack also severely impacted JBS's 47 facilities in Australia, the Financial Times reported, citing sources.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. President Joe Biden plans to bring up the cyberattack during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Switzerland on June 16. The U.S. does not rule out retaliating against the perpetrator it suspects is a Russian criminal gang, the White House said on Wednesday.

Only weeks before in May, a ransomware stopped flows on the Colonial pipeline, the largest pipeline system for refined oil products in the U.S, for about a week. The pipeline provides about 45 percent of the gasoline consumed on the East Coast. The outrage caused fuel prices to rise in the United States and gas shortages along the East Coast, fueling panic-buying. Colonial said it had paid the hackers $4.4 million on May 7, although it denied doing so at the time.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For FBI Director
FBI director Christopher Wray testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The recent cyberattacks on JBS and Colonial Pipeline show that they impact all Americans, Wray said. Alex Wong/Getty

Wray said that the JBS and Colonial breaches represented only two types of ransomware out of the 100 the agency is investigating, each of which had affected between 12 and 100 targets.

"The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with," he said.

Senior Biden administration officials have increased their focus on cybersecurity in recent months, and on May 12, the White House issued an executive order to improve America's cybersecurity.