Biden To Convene Security Meeting With Extent Of Ransomware Attack Still Unclear

July 07, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a meeting of U.S. government security officials on July 7 to discuss the administration’s efforts to counter ransomware attacks.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced the meeting as part of the U.S. response to a third major ransomware attack launched by cybercriminals believed to be based in Russia.

Speaking at a briefing on July 6, Psaki held out the prospect of retaliatory action, saying that what Biden told President Vladimir Putin during their summit in Geneva last month still holds.

“If the Russian government cannot or will not take action against criminal actors residing in Russia, we will take action or reserve the right to take action on our own,” she said, summarizing Biden’s statement to Putin. It was not clear what sort of action could follow.

Biden said on July 6 that damage to U.S. businesses caused by the ransomware attack appeared minimal, but added, “I’m going to have more to say about this in the next several days.”

Information about the extent of the attack, which cybersecurity experts have said is the biggest ransomware attack on record, remained incomplete. The perpetrators have demanded a ransom of $70 million. Psaki said companies should not pay any part of the ransom as it only encourages cybercriminals to continue their actions.

She also said Russian and U.S. representatives would meet next week and would discuss the matter.

The Florida-based technology firm Kaseya, whose remote-management software tool was exploited when the attack was launched on July 2, said fewer than 1,500 businesses worldwide appeared compromised.

The Republican National Committee said on July 6 that one of its contractors had been breached in the attack, though it was not immediately clear by whom.

"We immediately blocked all access," RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters said. "Our team worked with Microsoft to conduct a review of our systems and after a thorough investigation, no RNC data was accessed."

Ransomware attacks are carried out by hackers who break into networks and spread malicious computer code that encrypts a victim's digital data. The data are unusable until the targeted company pays the ransom.

Cybersecurity experts have said the Russia-based gang known as REvil appears to be behind the attack. The FBI believes that REvil was behind a ransomware attack in May on the meat-processing giant JBS. The Brazil-based company ended up paying $11 million in bitcoin to the hackers.

Another high-profile ransomware attack in May targeted Colonial Pipeline, which led to a shortage of gasoline in the southeastern United States, resulting in a spike in fuel prices.

U.S. law enforcement authorities said they recovered most of the ransom paid to the criminal group known as DarkSide in the pipeline case.

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