FBI warns of cyber threats, encourages awareness

Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 7:01 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Federal agents who investigate cyber crimes are warning individuals and businesses to be on alert.

“Ransomware for sure is keeping us very, very busy especially in light of current word events between Russia and Ukraine,” said Supervisory Special Agent Chad Hunt with the FBI Atlanta’s cyber squad. “Ransomware is an even more important threat than it has been in the past.”

“Unfortunately if ransomware does hit your home or your business it’s most likely going to encrypt all of the files on your computer and most likely take them or exfiltrate them and the ransomware actors will try to extort you for payment .”

Hunt and his team said there are steps everyone should take now to protect themselves and their companies.

“Not reusing passwords and using multifactor authentication like having a code sent to your phone are two really easy simple things you can do,” said Hunt.

Having backup systems in place and knowing how to restore the backups are also important, he said. But a big part of being prepared is making sure every employee of a company is educated about cyber threats.

“Businesses need to have a plan. In this day and age it’s not just the CEO and the board of directors that need to be well educated on cyber security vulnerabilities and threats, but it’s the entire enterprise,” said Philip Wislar, the acting special agent in charge of the FBI Atlanta field office.

“The increase of ransomware activity across the country and across the world has been very significant for us here in Atlanta,” he said, adding that agents from the Atlanta office are sent abroad for ransomware investigations.

The FBI works with its partners such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) and partners in the private sector to combat cybercrime.

“Bad guys are constantly finding new ways to get in,” said Special Agent Tyson Fowler, who investigates ransomware.

“If you’re a business that makes money, you’re a target. It’s that simple,” he said.

One recent variant of concern is called RagnarLocker and the FBI says it’s affected at least 52 entities across ten critical infrastructure sectors such as energy, financial services and government. The cybercriminals can demand millions of dollars in payment to release the encrypted files. They often want the victim to pay in virtual current such as Bitcoin, which can be hard to trace.

“With this variant, like many others, we suspect that the actors behind it are from the eastern European countries, countries like Russia, Ukraine,” said Fowler.

The FBI does not recommend paying ransom.

“Nobody wants to have an oil pipeline shut down, nobody wants to have the electric company be impacted,” he said. “These kinds of impacts can be so major that if we don’t work together to combat the threat we wont be as effective.”

The FBI believes ransomware attacks are underreported and agents encourage anyone who is affected to reach out to them immediately.