FBI Director Christopher Wray compared the recent ransomware attacks to the challenge posed by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes in the U.S.
"There are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention," Wray said. "There's a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American."
Wray made his comments in an interview posted by The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
He noted his agency is investigating about 100 different types of ransomware and said many trace back to people in Russia.
Ransomware is a malicious computer code that locks up a victim network's files that hackers use to demand payment for their release, the newspaper said.
Two recent ransomware attacks in the U.S. targeted the meat and oil-and-gas industries.
Wray said the recent ransomware attacks have put the focus on the toll cyberattacks have on Americans.
"Now realizing it can affect them when they're buying gas at the pump or buying a hamburger — I think there's a growing awareness now of just how much we're all in this fight together," he said.
"Those are just two," he said.
Wray added that each of those 100 different malicious software variants had affected between a dozen and 100 targets.
"The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with," he said.
"Time and time again, a huge portion of those traced back to actors in Russia. And so, if the Russian government wants to show that it's serious about this issue, there's a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we're not seeing right now."
The Department of Justice is elevating investigations of ransomware attacks to a similar priority as terrorism.
Reuters said internal guidance sent to U.S. attorney's offices said information about ransomware investigations in the field should be centrally coordinated with a recently created task force in Washington.
The FBI has a policy of discouraging targets of cyberattacks from paying the ransom. And Wray said the agency was more interested in having companies cooperate with the bureau in the investigations into the attacks.
"There have been instances where we've even been able to work with our partners to identify the encryption keys, which then would enable a company to actually unlock their data — even without paying the ransom," he said.
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