The U.S. government said Thursday it will begin offering up to $10 million for information to identify or locate malicious cyber actors working on behalf of a foreign government that are trying to cripple the internet operations of American businesses and infrastructure.
The new reward was announced as the U.S. faces a growing threat from ransomware attacks – the demand from foreign entities that U.S. corporations and institutions pay millions of dollars to unlock critical technology systems that hackers have seized. The attacks have usually originated overseas, frequently from Russia, according to U.S. officials.
Already this year, one of the largest pipeline operators in the U.S., a major meat processing company and, most recently, hundreds of small businesses have been hit by ransomware, forcing companies to pay millions of dollars to restore their operations or risk losing vital data.
The U.S. says that about $350 million in ransom was paid to malicious cyber actors in 2020, a more than 300% increase from the year before.
The U.S. State Department said it has created a new Tor-based channel to let potential sources anonymously report tips on malicious activity.
At the same time, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security created a new website, stopransomware.gov, with information for organizations to learn how to protect themselves and respond to attacks.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN it is a “one-stop shop” for information on “how one can prevent oneself from becoming a victim of ransomware, and should one become a victim, how one can work with the federal government in partnership to address the situation.”
“Of course, we advise they not pay that ransom,” he said.
In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the government alone cannot prevent the ransomware attacks.
“It is critical for business leaders across industries to recognize the threat, prioritize efforts to harden their systems and work with law enforcement by reporting these attacks promptly,” Garland said.