White House warns industry on ransomware threat

Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger on Thursday warned industry leaders to view ransomware as a threat to their core business operations, not just a risk of data theft.

The White House on Thursday sent out a memo to industry leaders warning them to take steps to protect themselves against ransomware in light of several high-profile attacks on U.S. companies this year as well as a general uptick documented throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The memo, from Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, also states the administration is actively developing policies related making ransom payments, an issue that was re-ignited after Colonial Pipeline's CEO publicly said his company paid a ransom after their own systems were compromised in May.

"The most important takeaway from the recent spare of ransomware attacks … is that companies that view ransomware as a threat to their core business operations rather than a simple risk of data theft will react and recover more effectively," Neuberger wrote.

Neuberger's letter advises industry to take a variety of measures to guard themselves through backing up data, patching their systems promptly, developing an incident response plan and segmenting their networks.

She also noted the uptick in ransomware attacks not just in the U.S., but around the world.

"Ransomware attacks have disrupted organizations around the world, from hospitals across Ireland, Germany and France, to pipelines in the United States and banks in the U.K," she wrote. "The threats are serious and they are increasing."

Neuberger's memo comes as a powerful lawmaker is looking to the private sector for information on ransomware payments.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is pressing CEOs at Colonial Pipeline and CNA Financial Corporation to turn over documents related to the discovery of ransomware attacks at each company as well as material documenting the decision to pay off hackers.

CNA Financial reportedly paid a $40 million ransom to a hackers in March, 2021. Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million to release its systems from the clutches of a ransomware gang.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.