By Nathalie Voit

In remarks made at the Detroit Economic Forum on March 22, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the private sector of potential cyberattacks from Moscow amid the ongoing conflict transpiring in Ukraine.

The remarks, made just one day after the White House issued a similar statement about bolstering the nation’s cybersecurity defenses, called on business leaders to develop a formal cyber incident response plan. Wray asked companies to report attacks and intrusions whenever they may happen to the FBI so that federal agents can use the information to help prevent future attacks.

“If American businesses don’t report attacks and intrusions, we won’t know about most of them, which means we can’t help you recover, and we don’t know to stop the next attack, whether that’s another against you or a new attack on one of your partners,” Wray said.

The director leaned on the infamous Colonial Pipeline attack to make his point. The ransomware attack originated from a cybercriminal group in Russia and shut down one of the nation’s largest oil pipelines for five days. In the days that followed, the resultant chaos saw people across the East coast panicking and gas stations up to the nation’s capital completely out of gas. The incident was later declared a state of emergency by President Biden.

“If that’s not a hurt you feel at home, I don’t know what is,” Wray said about the cyberattack. “Bottom line, I can’t think of anything ransomware groups would consider off-limits, and they’re hitting us more and more all the time.”

According to Wray, ransomware complaints reported to the FBI increased by 82% between 2019 and 2021. Among those was a surge in cryptocurrency-based crime, the likes committed by Russian-ransomware hacking gang REvil. The director said the cybercriminal group had targeted thousands of U.S.-based victims since 2019 through digital currency platforms Bitcoin and Monero, illegally obtaining over $150 million in ransom money in the process.

Wray also said ransomware attacks hit 14 of 16 U.S. critical infrastructure sectors in 2021. One of last summer’s attacks on global beef, poultry, and pork supplier JBS affected Americans’ “ability to put food on the table,” he said.

“The biggest difference between the model we built to fight terrorism and the way we battle cyber threats is the importance of the private sector,” Wray said. “Private networks, whether they belong to a pipeline operator, some other kind of victim, or an internet service provider, are most often the place we confront adversaries.”

Click here to access a full transcript of Tuesday’s speech.