FBI chief Wray warns hackers could 'shut down' U.S. society

Christopher Wray on Tuesday warned of the growing threat of hackers to U.S. society.
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FBI Director Christopher Wray
Christopher Wray testifies to the Senate.
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FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a stark warning Tuesday that nation-state or profit-driven hackers could "shut down" parts of U.S. society as he implored private business to do more to report attacks and to guard against them.

Wray used a speech at the Detroit Economic Club to issue a stark warning just a day after President Joe Biden warned Russia may very well launch large cyberattacks on America in coming days. 

The U.S. must "be vigilant against someone half a world away trying to shut down an entire sector of our society with a piece of code, and I don’t use the words 'shut down' metaphorically," Wray said in prepared remarks released by the FBI.

Wray recounted the FBI's decades-long transition from guarding against "coordinated, complex physical attacks on things like buildings, shopping malls, and bridges" to preparing for large-scale cyberattacks against critical infrastructure.

He noted the impact of such attacks, such as the DarkSide hacker group's strike against the Colonial Pipeline last year as well as Russia-based REvil's success in stealing millions from Americans through digital currency systems.

"We’re seeing both profit-minded criminals and nation-state adversaries, and sometimes the two working in a toxic tandem, attacking or threatening those hurt-us-at-home targets," Wray asserted, before highlighting the specific dangers to "oil and gas pipelines, hospitals, grade schools, 9-1-1 call centers."

Noting Russian attacks against Ukraine during the ongoing conflict between those nations, Wray also identified Iran, North Korea, and China as malevolent digital actors against which the U.S. needs to guard.

The FBI director further emphasized the need for partnership with businesses to better prepare against such activities.

"We also need what the private sector sees to protect companies, schools, universities, of all kinds. 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.

"We like to say that the best way to protect one business is to hear from others, and the best way to protect others is to hear from that one," he concluded.