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President Biden speaking during an event at the White House on June 2. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden administration is urging businesses to take "immediate steps" to increase their ransomware defenses in the wake of several high-profile cyberattacks, according to a White House memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The U.S. government's former top cybersecurity official Chris Krebs has described ransomware as a "global pandemic" — a crime that is increasingly common, but highly disruptive.

Context: Cyber criminal groups have launched at least two significant ransomware attacks against major businesses in roughly a month.

  • In May, a criminal group breached the Colonial Pipeline, the largest refined products pipeline network in the country. The attack forced the pipeline to shutdown, halting fuel deliveries along the East Coast for days. The company paid the hacker group $4.4 million to regain access to its computers.
  • A Russia-linked ransomware group forced all of JBS SA's beef plants in the U.S. to temporarily shut down this week, exposing the vulnerability of the world's largest meat processor.
  • “They went after our gas and they went after our hot dogs. No one is out of bounds here," Krebs warned on NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location," White House deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger wrote in the memo to businesses.

  • "Much as our homes have locks and alarm systems and our office buildings have guards and security to meet the threat of theft, we urge you to take ransomware crime seriously and ensure your corporate cyber defenses match the threat," it continues.
  • Neuberger recommended that businesses enable multi-factor authentication for sensitive accounts, use endpoint detection and response tools, and encrypt and regularly back up their data.
  • She also called on businesses to separate corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations to ensure certain networks can be isolated and continue to operate in the event of an attack.

The big picture: On top of ransomware attacks, numerous U.S. businesses and organizations have also been victims of other types of cyberattacks recently.

  • The major SolarWinds breach by Russian-backed hackers became public in December 2020, though the full extent of that attack is still unknown.
  • In March, Microsoft discovered that at least 30,000 U.S. victims — including small businesses and local governments — had been hacked by a cyber espionage unit backed by the Chinese government.
  • Microsoft also discovered last week that the same Russian hackers behind the SolarWinds breach launched another wave of cyberattacks against government agencies, think tanks, consultants and NGOs.

Read the full memo.

Go deeper: Ransomware business achieves critical mass

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Aug 4, 2021 - Economy & Business

Vax mandates to arrive in small businesses

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Half of America's small businesses are likely or certain to require their on-premise employees to be vaccinated, according to a Morning Consult poll of small businesses commissioned by American Express. That compares to 31% who say that such a mandate is unlikely or that they certainly won't impose one.

Why it matters: Many large businesses, from Facebook to Morgan Stanley, have announced vaccine mandates. New York City restaurants and gyms are also going to be fully vaxxed as of next month.

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

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