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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

Ransomware business achieves critical mass

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Memorial Day weekend ransomware attack that left the world's largest meat processor hobbled also had CEOs around the globe asking, "Am I next?"

Why it matters: The attack on Brazil-based JBS came just weeks after a similar attack on Colonial Pipeline, the U.S.'s largest refined-fuel pipeline operator. Attacks that disrupt food and energy supplies are the kinds that rouse governments to strike back.

Jun 2, 2021 - World

FBI: Russia-linked REvil behind ransomware attack on meatpacker JBS

The JBS meat placing plant in Plainwell, Michigan. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI said Wednesday that the Russia-linked REvil ransomware group was responsible for the cyberattack that forced major meat supplier JBS to shut down its beef plants across the United States.

What they're saying: "We have attributed the JBS attack to REvil and Sodinokibi and are working diligently to bring the threat actors to justice," the FBI said in a statement. "We continue to focus our efforts on imposing risk and consequences and holding the responsible cyber actors accountable."

Jun 2, 2021 - Technology

Massachusetts Steamship Authority hit by ransomware attack

A Steamship Authority ferry approaches the Nantucket Terminal. Photo: Maddie Meyer via Getty Images

The largest ferry service to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket has been targeted by a ransomware attack that is causing travel delays, the Massachusetts Steamship Authority announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: Ransomware has recently become a "global pandemic" thanks to the rise of a profitable industry around it, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes. In May, a similar attack on Colonial Pipeline, the U.S.'s largest refined-fuel pipeline operator, sent the Southeast into crisis.

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