Washington, United States: Top US officials met at the White House on stopping ransomware Wednesday, as pressure mounted on President Joe Biden to take action against Russia over cyberattacks.
Days after hundreds of companies in the US and around 1,500 worldwide saw their computer systems hijacked by allegedly Russia-based ransomware group REvil, there were calls for tough counterattacks by the Pentagon’s cyber warriors and more sanctions on Moscow.
The White House meeting, including officials from the State Department, Homeland Security, Justice Department and intelligence, also followed news that alleged Russian hackers had attempted to break into the systems of the Republican Party’s national committee.
After the meeting, Biden told reporters he would be sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue, without offering any details.
“The cybersecurity community agrees that REvil operates out of Russia with affiliates around the world,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
“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.”
Calls for more sanctions
But as the attacks continued three weeks after Biden raised the issue in direct talks with Putin at a Geneva summit, there were more calls for the US leader to retaliate.
In a Washington Post opinion piece Wednesday, cybersecurity expert Dmitri Alperovitch and Wilson Center Russia expert Matthew Rojansky urged Biden to sanction Russian oil and gas companies, a top source of Moscow’s finances.
“Before such devastating ransomware attacks become a routine occurrence, President Biden must deliver a quiet but forceful demand: Russian President Vladimir Putin must put an immediate stop to this activity or Washington will tighten the squeeze of sanctions on the Russian economy,” they wrote.
Republican Congressman Warren Davidson said Biden had appeared “weak” so far.
The Russians “are providing a sanctuary for this illicit activity,” he said on Fox news.
“I am glad that he is confronting Putin on it, but so far he has not shown enough resolve to change the course of events.”
$70 million demand
Psaki said senior White House national security staff had communicated their concern to high-level Russian officials.
And US and Russian cybersecurity officials are scheduled to meet next week on the ransomware problem.
But the most recent REvil attack suggested Moscow has not taken action to reign in cybercriminals.
On Wednesday on their “Happy Blog” on the dark web, REvil continued to release private data of companies whose computers they took over to pressure them to pay the ransom.
The group has also offered to publicly release the key for unlocking all of the companies’ data in return for a single payment of $70 million.
Asked about retaliating, Psaki said officials are still cautious about attributing blame for the most recent attacks and were not saying the Russian government was directly responsible.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday they would not talk about the specific capabilities or actions of their Cyber Command, which can undertake offensive and retaliatory attacks online.
“We are all mindful of these growing threats to national security as well as to civilian infrastructure,” Kirby said.
“We believe… a US response to those threats has got to be whole-of-government” and not just a military responsibility, he said.