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Justice Dept. to give ransomware attacks same priority as terrorism

Justice Dept. to give ransomware attacks same priority as terrorism
© Greg Nash

The Justice Department announced this week that it will begin elevating ransomware investigations to a similar level of priority as terrorist attacks.

John Carlin, the acting deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, told Reuters on Thursday that the federal government will prioritize ransomware cases through a new process.

"It's a specialized process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country, so you can make the connections between actors and work your way up to disrupt the whole chain," he said.

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According to Reuters, guidance to U.S. attorney's offices nationwide on Thursday advised that all information regarding any ransomware cases be sent to a recently formed task force based in Washington, D.C.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

The move follows a ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline and other entities in the U.S. in recent weeks.

Colonial Pipeline, which provides roughly 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, faced a cyberattack last month that left many states in the southeast with gasoline shortages. 

A cyber criminal group that federal authorities traced to Russia was able to infiltrate Colonial Pipeline's systems and demand a ransom. The company paid the hackers $4.4 million in order to have control of the systems returned to them.

"To ensure we can make necessary connections across national and global cases and investigations, and to allow us to develop a comprehensive picture of the national and economic security threats we face, we must enhance and centralize our internal tracking," read the federal guidance obtained by Reuters.

Carlin told the news outlet that officials have "used this model around terrorism before but never with ransomware," saying it reflected how the federal government is further prioritizing such attacks.

U.S. attorney’s offices operating under the new guidance will be required to share updated ransomware attack case details as well as active technical information with the Justice Department.