The cyber threats made against families and schools in the Flathead Valley earlier this month got national attention Wednesday when U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., probed FBI Director Chris Wray to explain how his bureau is working to bring the criminals to justice.
“Cyber-terrorism is an emerging threat that has become all too real in Montana,” Daines said.
The senator told the FBI director the threats made against the Columbia Falls School District promised harm and demanded a ransom, forcing the closure of more than 30 schools for three days and impacted more than 15,000 children.
“This is unprecedented. We have not seen that before in my home state,” Daines told Wray.
FBI director Wray responded, saying the federal bureau was actively involved in the matter, and that he wanted to be careful not to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“I will tell you this concept of ransomware, cyber terrorism, the various variants of it that are hitting, and I think the example in your state illustrates, that it’s everywhere now,” Wray said. “It’s no longer just ransomware to, you know, a big Fortune 500 company. It’s hospitals, it’s schools in your case – so it’s a threat that is growing.”
The FBI director said in some cases, they have been able indict cyber criminals involved in ransoms.
“In other cases – we’ve what’s called sinkholed them, which is redirect them into essentially into the hands of law enforcement,” Wray said. “But make no mistake it is a very serious threat and it’s growing.”
The FBI has a variety of technological tools they use to combat cyber crime. They also work with partners to identify similar cases and exchange information to identify telltale signs of the criminals that could link them back to particular organizations, according to the FBI director.
“I think one of [the] things we’re seeing more and more in this area, as much as any other, is how this stuff transcends boundaries. So some of the same organizations are targeting victims in other countries as well,” Wray said.
“We’re really working more and more with our partners to try to see if we can have their two plus our two to get more than four — to get five and six and so that we can really deal with these otherwise very elusive foes.”