Stop paying ransoms to hackers says the FBI

Chris Wray

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) – On Wednesday, FBI Director Chris Wray urged public corporations and other hacking victims to avoid paying a ransom, citing worry that doing so would incite cybercriminals to increase their activities in the future.

“In general, we would advise against paying the ransom because it encourages more of these attacks and, honestly, there is no guarantee that you will get your data back,” Wray said in front of a Senate appropriations committee.

The Justice Department said that it assisted Colonial Pipeline Co in recovering around $2.3 million in cryptocurrency ransom payments made to hackers in connection with an incident that caused severe shortages at East Coast gas stations.

The FBI was able to reclaim those assets because it had a private key that allowed it to access a bitcoin wallet that contained the majority of the monies. However, it’s unclear how the FBI got their hands on the key.

Although the federal government only sometimes seizes bitcoins, authorities have been perfecting their expertise in tracing the flow of digital currency.

Wray claimed on Wednesday that the FBI is seeing an increase in the sophistication of ransomware operations, as well as cybercriminals demanding more significant ransom payments.

“We’ve seen the overall volume of money paid more than triple in the last year or two,” Wray added.

He recommended that businesses and municipalities that become victims of ransomware attacks call the FBI right away rather than waiting.

“When they do,” Wray continued, “there are several things we can do.”

“On occasion, as a consequence of earlier work, we may be able to obtain the decryption key and aid the organisation in unlocking their data without having to pay the ransom,” he added.