(CNN)In the wake of the Colonial Pipeline and JBS ransomware attacks in recent months, the head of the nation’s leading cybersecurity agency says these events are a harbinger of what’s to come on the cyber front and there needs to be a greater focus on shoring up the defenses of America’s most important assets.
“Both of those incidents highlight the actual real world consequences of cyber incidents, targeting our critical infrastructure. And while today those attacks have impacted Americans at the gas pump and at the supermarkets, our concern is where could this go next,” Brandon Wales, the current acting director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told CNN’s Pamela Brown in an interview.
While attacks like the ones on JBS and Colonial Pipeline are not new, they have increased in recent years, according to Wales, and they’re bolder than ever — leading criminal attackers to look for bigger targets for more ransom money, including targets that have real world consequences.
“We are concerned about where this could go in the future,” Wales said. “I think our concern is that more targeting of the industrial control systems, those things that actually enable critical infrastructure to operate — whether in water systems or power systems, the manufacturing base of the country — those are targets, and unless we take urgent action, we are really concerned about the disruptive effects that this could have on the American people.”
Both JBS and Colonial Pipeline paid ransoms to their criminals to unlock their systems, but Wales warned about the danger of such moves for the country as a whole.
“It has both short and long term impacts for the cybersecurity of the country and for the potential of cybersecurity for those individual companies,” Wales said. “A recent study found that 80% of companies that have paid ransom have been hit again. And so the adversaries know that they are a target who’s willing to pay.”
Why Americans should care
No company is too big or too small to fall victim to a ransomware attack, Wales said, and he advised all companies and organizations to take steps to shore u
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