In early May, hackers shut down the computer networks of Colonial Pipeline, which supplies about 45 percent of the gasoline to the Southeastern U.S. As panic buying emptied gas stations throughout the region, Colonial paid $5 million in ransom to the intruders. Last week, the world’s largest meat producer, JBS, was forced to close slaughterhouses in the U.S., Canada, and Australia after a similar ransomware attack. Other recent attacks have targeted the New York subway system and a water treatment plant in Florida, and a wave of hacks paralyzed U.S. hospitals last year during the pandemic. Could ransomware attacks put the whole U.S. infrastructure at risk?

To Dmitri Alperovitch—the co-founder and chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a nonprofit working on geopolitical cybersecurity, and the co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike—ransomware attacks have bedeviled organizations worldwide for years; but the Colonial and JBS episodes drew new attention to the problem, because they affected tens of millions of people. These seizures of critical infrastructure are one of the country’s top national security threats, in Alperovitch’s view, and U.S. President Joe Biden needs to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Russia provides a haven for the criminal groups behind most attacks. As Alperovitch sees it, authorities need to deploy political pressure on Russia and financial tools to stop the flow of ransom payments, because hackers can always find a way in.

Not a subscriber? Read more from this article & sign up for The Signal’s free newsletter here.

Michael Bluhm: Are ransomware attacks getting worse?

For our subscribers

The Signal is an independent digital magazine, supported exclusively by readers. Join to continue reading this article and for full access to everything we publish.

Subscribe now Already have an account? Sign in