General promises 'surge' to fight ransomware attacks

General promises 'surge' to fight ransomware attacks
© Stefani Reynolds

Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency (NSA), is working to “surge” efforts to respond to the mounting ransomware attacks on critical U.S. organizations. 

“Even six months ago, we probably would have said, ‘Ransomware, that’s criminal activity,’ ” Nakasone said as part of an interview with The Associated Press published Tuesday. “But if it has an impact on a nation, like we’ve seen, then it becomes a national security issue. If it’s a national security issue, then certainly we’re going to surge toward it.”

Nakasone told The Associated Press that there was “an intense focus” on the part of government specialists to tackle cybersecurity threats and to “impose costs when necessary,” including through publicly calling out countries behind major cyberattacks. 

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His comments came on the heels of months of attacks on both U.S. government groups and private industry. 

These have included those linked to foreign governments, such as the SolarWinds hack, which allowed Russian-government linked hackers to compromise nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups for much of 2020. President BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE imposed sanctions on Russia in connection with the attack in April. 

The incidents have also included major ransomware attacks on companies including Colonial Pipeline, which provides 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply, and on meat producer JBS USA, both of which were linked to Russian-based cyber criminal groups. 

The Biden administration has made responding to cybersecurity threats a key priority, and Biden signed an executive order in May intended to strengthen federal cybersecurity. The attacks in cyberspace were also a key issue Biden discussed with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinNavalny knocks Apple, Google for removing voting app Federal agencies warn companies to be on guard against prolific ransomware strain Top US general: Meeting with Russian counterpart 'productive' MORE during their in-person summit in Geneva earlier this year. 

Nakasone’s comments were made public the same day he appeared as part of a panel at the Intelligence and National Security Summit, during which Nakasone noted that his agencies were “very, very focused on cybersecurity.”

“What has our nation faced over the past nine months? SolarWinds, Hafnium, JBS, Colonial Pipeline, ransomware, supply chain attacks,” Nakasone said. “Cybersecurity is national security, and we strongly believe that.”