In the wake of the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, a White House official who is the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies stated that private companies might consider paying ransomware demands, contravening an FBI policy that companies should not do so, prompting cybersecurity experts to rip the White House.
At a Monday press briefing, The Associated Press’ White House reporter Aamer Madhani asked Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, “Just to clarify something: Has Colonial paid any ransom? And has there been any advice on that?”
Neuberger answered, “We recognize that victims of cyberattacks often face a very difficult situation. And they have to just balance off, in the cost-benefit, when they have no choice with regard to paying a ransom. Colonial is a private company, and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them.”
Madhani persisted, “Did you — would the administration offer any advice on whether or not to pay a ransom?”
“So, typically, that is a private-sector decision, and the administration has not offered further advice at this time,” Neuberger replied. “Given the rise in ransomware, that is one area we’re definitely looking at now to say, ‘What should be the government’s approach to ransomware actors and to ransoms overall?’”
The FBI states on its website, “The FBI does not support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee you or your organization will get any data back. It also encourages perpetrators to target more victims and offers an incentive for others to get involved in this type of illegal activity.”
James Knight of Digital Warfare Corp, told the Daily Mail, “I think it is incredibly foolish that they even suggested it. It may be something that has to be done in practice – but to say it live was ridiculous. Absolute stupidity.”
Jim Carafano, national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, slammed the Biden administration saying he was “gobsmacked” by Neuberger’s remarks. “This is a very risk averse administration that doesn’t want to get deeply bogged down in a lot of things that distract from its domestic agenda,” Carafano said. “For them to take ownership of this pipeline issue would make it their problem. It is more convenient for them to push it back on the company.”
Neuberger stated on Monday, “The FBI identified the ransomware as the DarkSide variant, which they’ve been investigating since October of last year. It’s a ransomware as a service variant, where criminal affiliates conduct attacks and then share the proceeds with the ransomware developers. … [W]e’re pursuing greater international cooperation — ransomware affects countries around the world — to address ransomware because transnational criminals are most often the perpetrators of these crimes and they often leverage global infrastructure and global money-laundering networks.”
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