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In Wake of Colonial Pipeline Attack, Former U.S. Cyber Czar Says It Should Be Illegal for Companies to Pay Ransoms to Hackers


It was wrong for Colonial Pipeline to pay a $5 million ransom to the criminal group that shut down their computer system and President Joe Biden should issue an executive order making it illegal for any company to make such payments in the future, the country’s former cyber czar Richard Clarke says.

“I think we have to make it illegal for anyone to pay these ransoms,” Clarke said on the Law& Crime Network Program Brian Ross investigates. “As soon as we do that, they will go away,” he added.

Clarke, who was the country’s first cyber czar, also said that President Biden should order the military’s Cyber Command “to go find these guys on the Internet and destroy their networks, which is something that’s in our power to do.”

Clarke also was critical of insurance companies which often negotiate and facilitate such ransom payments with hackers.

“It’s cheaper for the insurance company to pay up than it is for the insurance company to do the alternative, which is to restore your system,” Clarke said in his interview.

Colonial said it had no choice but to pay the ransom to restore its pipeline operations, as the shutdown created a consumer panic leading to long lines at gas stations in the Southeast.

“In my business, it’s been a dirty little secret for years that the pipeline companies are wide open, “ Clarke said, citing the lack of cybersecurity government regulations that apply to banks and other vital services. “Banks don’t get hit because they’re secure, because the government makes them be secure and pipelines do get hit because the government is not yet making them be secure.”

In addressing the issue, President Biden pledged the FBI and the Department of Justice would track down those responsible for the ransomware attack on Colonial. Officials believe a criminal group operating out of Russia is the likely culprit.

[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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