Senior US administration officials said President Biden is hosting virtual meetings this week with more than 30 countries to “accelerate anti-ransomware cooperation,” but the White House has not invited Russia, noting that the United States and the Kremlin have a “channel” where they “discuss” actively ” This issue.
Senior administration officials said the president’s Wednesday and Thursday meetings are intended to build on U.S. leadership in mobilizing allies and partners to confront ransomware threats around the world, which officials said are increasing in “size, complexity, and frequency” and have victimized governments. Private individuals and companies around the world.
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Officials went to outline the White House’s four-point strategy to tackle ransomware—disrupting ransomware actors; Enhanced more resilience to counter ransomware attacks; Addressing the abuse of virtual currency to launder ransomware payments; And take advantage of international cooperation to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem.
The countries scheduled to attend the virtual meeting are Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and European Union.
“Russia is not involved at the moment,” a senior administration official said, adding that the administration has a “separate channel in which we actively discuss ransomware” with Russia.
Officials said the president created a US expert group and the US Kremlin to participate “directly” in the ransomware issue.
“We look to the Russian government to address the criminal activity of ransomware coming from actors inside Russia,” one of the officials said, adding that the Biden administration “has also shared information with Russia regarding criminal ransomware activity being conducted from its territory.”
“We’ve seen some steps taken by the Russian government, and we look forward to seeing follow-up actions and broader international cooperation being an important line of effort, because these are transnational criminal organizations,” an official said, adding that they “take advantage of global infrastructure and money laundering networks to carry out their attacks.”
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Biden, during his summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, raised the issue of ransomware. Biden said, at the time, that he told Putin that “certain critical infrastructure should be off-limits to attack.” Biden said he provided a list of “16 specific entities that have been identified as critical infrastructure,” saying they ranged from energy and water systems.
However, during his press conference after the meeting, Putin denied that Russia was responsible for the cyber attacks and instead claimed that most of the cyber attacks in the world were carried out from the United States.
But Biden administration officials stressed Tuesday that working with international partners is imperative to ensure the United States can disrupt attacks, including “the illicit use of virtual currency that is already driving the growth of ransomware.”
Last month, the Treasury sanctioned virtual currency exchange SUEX OTC, SRO, after it was confirmed that it had “facilitated transactions involving illicit proceeds” for at least eight types of ransomware.
The Biden administration explained that some virtual currency exchanges have proven to be a “critical component” of ransomware, as virtual currency “is the primary vehicle for facilitating ransomware payments and associated money laundering activities.”
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The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designation of SUEX is “the first virtual currency exchange designation to be complicit in criminal ransomware activity.” The Treasury said virtual currency exchanges, such as SUEX, are “essential to the profitability of ransomware attacks, which help fund additional activity for cybercriminals.”
“Treasury will continue to disrupt and hold these entities accountable to reduce the incentive for cybercriminals to conduct these attacks,” the Treasury said, adding that the SUEX designation was done in coordination with the FBI.
The Biden administration’s efforts to bolster cyber defenses follow a series of ransomware attacks earlier this summer in which malicious foreign actors targeted parts of critical US infrastructure.
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In June, a ransomware attack shut down US meat plants for the world’s largest meatpacking company, Brazil-based JBS. The White House said the hack was likely carried out by a Russia-based criminal group.
The attack on JBS came just weeks after the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, the East Coast Colonial Pipeline, was targeted by a criminal group originating from Russia.
Senior administration officials said the “optimal” overall approach is to modernize national defense, federal and local government, local government and critical infrastructure, as well as the broader private sector so that they are “modern enough to meet the threat.”
President Biden, in July, signed a national security memorandum directing his administration to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure in the United States — entities such as electric utility companies, chemical plants, and nuclear reactors.
The memorandum also formally established the Biden Cyber Security Initiative, a voluntary collaborative effort between the federal government and critical infrastructure entities to facilitate the deployment of technology and systems that provide indicators and threat detection.