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Over 65,000 ransomware attacks expected in 2021: former Cisco CEO

·3 min read
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U.S. companies are expected to endure over 65,000 ransomware attacks this year — and that's “a conservative number,” John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems (CSCO) told Yahoo Finance Live.

With McDonald’s (MCD), JBS (JBSAY), and Colonial Pipeline Co. all recently coming under cyberattacks, Chambers does not foresee an end to the onslaught of cybersecurity threats anytime soon. He estimated that the number of ransomware attacks in 2021 could end up being as high as 100,000, with each one costing companies an average of $170,000.

In the case of Colonial, just one password was needed for hackers to compromise the entire company’s IT infrastructure. This led to Colonial and JBS paying a combined $15 million in ransom against FBI advice. (The Justice Department later recovered about $2.3 million of the cryptocurrency, about half of Colonial’s initial ransom.)

“I think [cybersecurity is] one of the top three issues facing corporate boardrooms,” Chambers, currently COE and founder of JC2 Ventures, added. “And being very candid, having been the CEO and a chairman, it's uncomfortable because you get your chief information security officer up in front of the court. They show the data. And your board looks at you, and they say, can you prevent this?”

Though prevention measures are pivotal, when a company does succumb to a cyberattack, Chambers says the next step is to focus on an effective recovery strategy often facilitated by cybersecurity companies like Rubrik. He sees startups playing a key role in serving as the next generation of cybersecurity providers that offer services on both the preventative and recovery ends.

According to Chambers, hackers in the SolarWinds (SWI) attack were able to gain access to the company’s systems six months before the problem was even identified.

“Only six years ago [at the World Economic Forum in 2015] I said there are only two types of companies in the world—those that have been hacked and those that don't know they've been hacked—and it was like a major statement of surprise,” Chambers said. “Yet today we understand how this is going to come at every company.”

Chambers also stressed the need for companies to improve their identification capabilities to secure the integrity of their private information and computing systems. He pointed to voice identification technology as being one of the major tools for companies to ensure that only individuals with the proper credentials have access to their systems.

“You’ve also got to make it much easier for identification,” Chambers said. “The way that often these hacks occur is they come in through a traditional call center or they come in through another connection.”

Chambers believes that the reasons behind the recent slew of successful ransomware attacks may be a combination of inadequate technology and improper allocation of resources into preventative measures. The solution, which may also make for lucrative investment opportunities, Chambers says, may lie in cybersecurity startups that put the integrity of companies’ tech infrastructure to the test and provide feedback on how they can improve.

“I know most CEOs really take this serious now,” Chambers said. “And we've realized whether you're in meat-packing—as you did with Senator Tester the other day, where he said our critical infrastructure is being attacked from everywhere imaginable—or you're in hospitals or you're in pipelines, the CEOs want to keep their company secured.”

A sign is seen as Exxon station is out of gas after a cyberattack crippled the biggest fuel pipeline in the country, run by Colonial Pipeline, in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
A sign is seen as Exxon station is out of gas after a cyberattack crippled the biggest fuel pipeline in the country, run by Colonial Pipeline, in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Thomas Hum is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @thomashumTV

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