Biden phones Putin to tell him to ‘take action’ against ransomware hackers

US intelligence agencies say Russia provides a safe haven for cybercriminals, so long as they don’t attack the country

Graig Graziosi
Friday 09 July 2021 20:37
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<p>Putin has consistently denied that his country carries out cyberattacks </p>

Putin has consistently denied that his country carries out cyberattacks 

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Joe Biden has called Russian President Vladimir Putin and told him to "take action" against ransomware groups operating in Russia that are attacking US government agencies and private businesses.

Mr Biden made the call on Friday, and told Mr Putin that the US will take "any necessary action" to defend the US and its infrastructure from the threat of cyberattacks.

The White House released a statement summarizing the discussion, saying Mr Biden "spoke with President Putin about the ongoing ransomware attacks by criminals based in Russia that have impacted the United States and other countries around the world”.

The statement said Mr Biden "reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge”.

High-profile cyberattacks have been on the rise over the last year.

In late 2020, the SolarWinds attack compromised numerous US governmental agencies and private companies. Earlier this year, another attack against the Columbia Pipeline resulted in a run on gas supplies that caused a shortage in some portions of the Eastern US.

The most recent attack targeted hundreds of companies across the world and the Republican National Committee over the 4 July weekend, which prompted the call from Mr Biden.

Defense officials claim that Russia has acted as a safe harbor for cyber criminals, essentially operating on the idea that so long as they do not target Russia, the government will let them carry on without interference.

Mr Biden and the US intelligence community have claimed that Russia is harboring hacking groups like DarkSide and REvil, which have been accused of carrying out some of the most recent high profile attacks.

In a 2016 interview, Mr Putin was asked why he has not cracked down on cyber criminals within his borders.

“If they did not break Russian law, there is nothing to prosecute them for in Russia,” he said.

US intelligence agencies believe that Russia openly courts skilled hackers, even hiring some to work for the GRU, the country's intelligence agency and successor to the Soviet KGB, for which Mr Putin himself served.

Allan Liska, a ransomware expert with Recorded Future, told The Washington Post that the Russian-based hackers develop their attacks in ways that specifically avoid affecting Russian users.

“If you look at the ransomware code for most of these actors, it will not install on systems that have a Russian-language keyboard, are coming from Russian IP addresses or have the Russian-language packs installed,” Mr Liska said.

He claimed that hackers have explicitly said in forums that they would not target Russians.

“And that allows them to operate with impunity," he said. "They are not operating at the behest of Russia, but they’re operating with the tacit acknowledgment of Russia."

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