Chattanooga Times Free Press

Biden tells Putin to crack down on cybercrimi­nals

- BY ZEKE MILLER AND ERIC TUCKER

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Friday phone call that he must “take action” against cybercrimi­nals acting in his country and the U.S. reserves the right to “defend its people and its critical infrastruc­ture” from future attacks. the White House said.

The warning to Putin was largely a repetition of the tough rhetoric Biden had used during their meeting in Geneva last month, when he warned there would be consequenc­es for continuing cyberattac­ks emanating from Russia. Since then, a new ransomware attack linked to the Russia-based REvil hacking group has caused widespread disruption, placing Biden under growing pressure to this time marry the warning with actions — though none were immediatel­y announced.

“I made it very clear to him that the United States expects when a ransomware operation is coming from his soil even though it’s not sponsored by the state, we expect them to act if we give them enough informatio­n to act on who that is,” Biden said, speaking to reporters at an event on economic competitiv­eness. Asked whether there will be consequenc­es, he said, “Yes.”

The call with Putin underscore­d the extent to which the ransomware threat from criminal hacker gangs has mushroomed into an urgent national security challenge for the White House, and it suggested a possible concession by the administra­tion that earlier warnings to the Russian leader had failed to curb a criminal activity that has taken aim at businesses across the globe.

A White House statement announcing the hourlong call also highlighte­d a U.S.-Russian agreement that will allow humanitari­an aid to flow into Syria. The dual prongs of the agenda show how even as Biden pledges to get tough on Russia over hacking, there’s an inherent desire to avoid aggravatin­g tensions as the administra­tion looks for Russia to cooperate, or at least not interfere, with U.S. actions in other areas, including Syria, the Afghanista­n withdrawal and climate change.

In his call with Putin, besides reiteratin­g the need for Russia to take action and that the U.S. stands ready to act in response, Biden also “emphasized that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware,” the White House said.

Biden told reporters the U.S. and Russia have “set up a means of communicat­ion now on a regular basis to be able to communicat­e with one another when each of us thinks something is happening in another country that affects the home country. And so it went well. I’m optimistic.”

In its own summary of the call, the Kremlin said “Putin noted that despite the Russian side’s readiness to jointly stop criminal activities in the informatio­n sphere, U.S. agencies haven’t made any requests during the past month.”

The Kremlin said the two leaders emphasized the need for cooperatio­n on cybersecur­ity, which it said “must be permanent, profession­al and non-politicize­d and should be conducted via special communicat­ion channels … and with respect to internatio­nal law.”

The Kremlin statement also noted that Biden and Putin touched on the situation in Syria “with a special emphasis on humanitari­an aspects” and “gave a positive assessment of coordinati­on of Russian and U.S. efforts on the issue, including in the U.N. Security Council.”

The White House declined to discuss the tone of Biden’s call, though press secretary Jen Psaki said it did focus significan­tly on the latest breach, which cybersecur­ity researcher­s have said infected victims in at least 17 countries, largely through firms that remotely manage IT infrastruc­ture for multiple customers.

Though Biden had previously said the attack had caused “minimal damage,” and it did not appear to target vital infrastruc­ture, the sheer global scale and the fact that it occurred so soon after the Geneva meeting put immediate pressure on the administra­tion to have some sort of response.

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