U.S. Officials Will Treat Cyberattacks As Acts Of Terrorism

CBS News Chief Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues discusses the response to recent ransomware attacks.

Video Transcript

JOSEPH BLOUNT: I made the decision to keep the information about the payment as confidential as possible. It was the hardest decision I've made in my 39 years in the energy industry. And I know how critical our pipeline is to the country. And I put the interests of the country first.

- The CEO of Colonial Pipeline testifying on Capitol Hill today about the ransomware attack that caused gas shortages across the East Coast. It was just the latest in a string of cyber attacks across the country. And here in Massachusetts, just last week, hackers targeted the Steamship Authority. And back in April, a ransomware attack hit Haverhill schools. CBS News Chief Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues is in Washington. And Jeff, the Justice Department plans to handle these attacks now like terrorism cases.

JEFF PEGUES: Yeah, they have to do something. This is the kind of situation now where you know the average person now knows what a ransomware attack is, especially when you have something like Colonial Pipeline that affected the gas lines up and down the East Coast. And so the FBI, the Justice Department, they got to do something.

So what do you do? You try to streamline these investigations, increase the coordination among agencies, whether it's the US attorney's office, the money laundering experts, because what investigators have to do to curtail this kind of behavior is cut off the flow of the money. So as they do in terrorism cases, they're going to start following the flow of the money. And that's what happened in the Colonial Pipeline case just yesterday.

- Right. And here, Jeff, the Steamship Authority, in charge of the ferries to Martha's Vineyard and the Islands, are still recovering from that attack. Hackers at the New York City subway system a few weeks ago as well. So is there anything being done to protect our transit systems?

JEFF PEGUES: They're trying to protect every potential target they can. And really, all that law enforcement can do is get the word out to these company or the Steamship Authority, as well as the MTA in New York, get the word out that you have to close whatever vulnerabilities there may exist in your computer networks because that is how these cyber criminals, many of them linked to Russia, get into these systems. They search for these vulnerabilities and they're constantly doing it. And that's why it behooves these companies, these government organizations, schools, whatever it may be, potential targets, to make sure that they have a computer hygiene system in place that keeps their systems safe.

- Sure. Certainly a time to shore up the system. Jeff, thank you so much.