U.S., Allies Seek Ways To Combat Ransomware As Online Attacks
October 13, 2021
The United States is rallying dozens of allies and
partners at a two-day virtual conference to discuss ways to
combat ransomware as online attacks proliferate, hurting
businesses and undermining national security.
Representatives of 30 countries from Europe, the Middle East,
Africa, South America, and Asia will join Biden administration
officials at the conference on October 13-14 to consider how to
disrupt the ransomware ecosystem, including making it harder to
use cryptocurrency as a means of payment.
The meeting -- whose participants include representatives from
Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania -- will also focus on how to
prosecute cybercriminals and how to deal with nation-states that
fail to tackle cybergangs operating inside their borders.
The Biden administration has made fighting ransomware a top
priority as the number and severity of cases has surged in
recent years, impacting a wide array of industries from retail
and food to health care and critical infrastructure.
Ransomware payments globally topped $400 million last year, the
White House said.
Frank Cilluffo, the director of Auburn University’s McCrary
Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security and a
government adviser, told RFE/RL that ransomware has become a
transnational issue which requires some transnational solutions.
"We're going to need to be able to work with like-minded allies
to start addressing this challenge in earnest and collectively
applying some pressure on countries that are turning a blind eye
to some of this," Cilluffo said. "I'm not sure we're going to
get to the goal on all that (at the conference) but you need to
start the conversation."
In two high-profile cases earlier this year, cybergangs believed
to be based in Russia disrupted the operations of a major U.S.
pipeline operator as well as a large meat packing company.
Moscow has denied allegations of cyberattacks on Western
Representatives from Russia were not invited to the conference,
a senior administration official told reporters on October 12,
adding that Washington and Moscow recently set up a high-level,
bilateral dialogue on cybersecurity.
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed
at their June summit in Geneva to relaunch talks about
cyberattacks. Biden called on Putin to tackle cybercriminals
operating from inside Russia.
The senior official said that the United States has "seen some
steps by the Russian government" since the talks began in the
summer but declined to say what they were.
The official said the October 13-14 conference would be the
first in a series on the topic and did not rule out that Russia
could be invited in the future.
The acceptance of cryptocurrencies and the partial anonymity
they offer has helped fuel the growth of ransomware.
Herbert Lin, a senior research scholar for cyber policy and
security at Stanford University, told RFE/RL that conference
participants need to focus on how to interfere with
Ransomware will become less attractive if cybercriminals can't
turn the cryptocurrency payments into cash, he said.
"The more countries involved in the discussion, the better but
in the end you want to have global controls on cryptocurrency
redemption," he said.
The Treasury Department last month imposed sanctions on a
cryptocurrency exchange for the first time as it seeks to crack
down on the use of digital currencies in ransomware attacks. The
department said about 40 percent of the transactions at Suex,
which operates in Russia, involves illicit activities. The new
sanctions will block all trades involving Suex and U.S.
Cilluffo also said the conference needs to draw attention to the
problem of servers that host malware and black market websites.
Along with cryptocurrencies, such servers are key elements in
the ransomware ecosystem and many are located in East European
"The big issue that I'd like to see coming out of this
is...putting a little bit of pressure or at least raising of
awareness of what these service providers and services are
offering," he said.