The White House urged private companies Thursday to examine their online networks and prepare for ransomware attacks after a spate of high-profile crises hit gas pipelines, meat-processing firms and hospitals in the U.S. and abroad.
A memo to business leaders said the administration is working with allies to shore up defenses, disrupt hacking networks and hold countries accountable if they harbor criminal organizations responsible for ransomware attacks.
But it also told the private sector to watch its back.
“All organizations must recognize that no company is safe from being targeted by ransomware, regardless of size or location,” the memo said. “But there are immediate steps you can take to protect yourself, as well as your customers and the broader economy. 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.”
The White House told companies to treat ransomware attacks as a threat to the core of their businesses instead of a simple act of data theft.
A high-profile attack on the Colonial Pipeline caused gas shortages across the Southeast, while JBS Foods had to pause slaughterhouse operations while it regained its footing from a cyberattack this week.
The White House offered a few tips.
It said companies should test their backup systems and keep them offline, so they aren’t infected, too.
Companies should update and patch their systems regularly, do dry-runs of their emergency plans and ask a third party to test their cyber defenses.
They also said core operations should be insulated from networks in case of an emergency. For instance, there might be manual workarounds to keep things moving if the online network is attacked.
“Ransomware attacks have disrupted organizations around the world, from hospitals across Ireland, Germany and France, to pipelines in the United States and banks in the U.K.,” the memo said. “The threats are serious and they are increasing. We urge you to take these critical steps to protect your organizations and the American public.”
Many of the recent attacks have been linked to criminal groups in Russia.
The White House said President Biden will address the issue at a June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland, though it argued the government’s role only goes so far.
“The number and size of ransomware incidents have increased significantly, and strengthening our nation’s resilience from cyberattacks – both private and public sector — is a top priority of the president’s,” the memo said.