FBI issues alert warning of potential 'high-impact' ransomware attacks

FBI issues alert warning of potential 'high-impact' ransomware attacks
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The FBI on Wednesday warned U.S. businesses and organizations of the increasing threat posed by ransomware cyberattacks, following several high-profile attacks on government offices and other public entities.

The agency said the attacks, which involve encrypting a computer before demanding money in return for unlocking it, are “becoming more targeted, sophisticated, and costly.”

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“Since early 2018, the incidence of broad, indiscriminate ransomware campaigns has sharply declined, but the losses from ransomware attacks have increased significantly,” the FBI wrote.

The agency has issued similar warnings of malicious actors trying to hack into websites seen as more "secure" and have warned of business email compromises, but this was the first in 2019 highlighting ransomware attacks.

Wednesday's warning follows attacks on more than 20 Texas small towns and other entities, and attacks on multiple school districts in Louisiana that led Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) to declare a statewide emergency.

The city governments of Baltimore and Atlanta have also been hit by ransomware attacks over the past year, with both cities refusing to pay the attackers and instead paying millions to recover from disruptions.

The FBI acknowledged the full scope of the ransomware attacks, writing that “although state and local governments have been particularly visible targets for ransomware attacks, ransomware actors have also targeted health care organizations, industrial companies, and the transportation sector.”

The FBI noted that malicious actors mostly use email phishing campaigns, software vulnerabilities and remote desktop protocol vulnerabilities to infect systems with the ransomware viruses.

The agency recommended that any entities that fall victim to a ransomware attack should not pay the ransom, citing concerns around “emboldening” the individuals to target other groups with the same virus. Paying the ransom also does not guarantee that the system will be decrypted.

The FBI recommended that businesses have all systems and data backed up, to ensure all software is up to date, and to train employees on how to spot potential ransomware attacks.

“The time to invest in backups and other cyber defenses is before an attacker strikes, not afterward when it may be too late,” the FBI wrote.

Congress has taken some steps to address the attacks, including the passage by the Senate last week of legislation to boost cyberattack assistance for both federal agencies and the private sector.

The Senate passed an amended version of a House bill, meaning the House must now approve the changed legislation or the two chambers need to agree on a revised measure before it can be voted on again and sent to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE’s desk for his signature.