Biden urges Putin to disrupt cyber criminals in Russia


US President Joe Biden (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin meet for talks at Villa La Grange.

Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden in a phone call on Friday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action to curb recent ransomware attacks by groups based in Russia, the White House said.

“President Biden underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and stressed that he is committed to continuing engagement against the wider ransomware threat,” a White House reading said .

“President Biden affirmed that in the face of this ongoing challenge, the United States will take all necessary measures to defend its people and critical infrastructure.”

The call came just days after a massive new cyber attack by REvil group believed to be based in Russia.

The hacking gang is demanding $ 70 million in cryptocurrency to unlock data from the attack that spread to hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in a dozen countries.

The attack is the latest in a series of serious ransomware attacks carried out by groups originating in Russia this spring and summer.

In May, REvil targeted JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier. The company eventually paid a $ 11 million ransom, but not before it temporarily ceased all of its U.S. operations.

Earlier that month, another cybercriminal targeted the operator of the country’s largest gas pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline. The attack forced the company to shut down a fuel pipeline roughly 5,500 miles long, cutting fuel supplies to the east coast of almost half.

As of early Friday afternoon, the Kremlin had not yet published its own reading of the Biden Putin appeal, so it is unclear how the Russian president reacted to Biden’s pressure.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday the United States had no new information suggesting the Russian government was directly responsible for the attacks.

Putin has consistently denied any involvement or direct knowledge of ransomware attacks from Russia.

However, US officials say the idea that Putin does not know who these attackers are is not credible as he has a tight grip on Russia’s intelligence services and its more opaque network of contractors.

In June, Biden met personally with Putin in Geneva, where he warned the Russian President to crack down on cyberattacks from Russia.

US President Joe Biden gestures at a press conference after the US-Russia Summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on June 16, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

There, Biden said he presented Putin with a list of critical infrastructures in the United States that, if attacked by Russia-based cybercriminals, would pose a serious national security threat to the United States

“Certain critical infrastructures should be closed to attacks, cyber or other means,” said Biden after the meeting. “I gave them a list, 16 specific entities that are defined as critical infrastructure under US policy, from the energy sector to water systems.”

“So we agreed to hire experts in our two countries to work on specific agreements on what is forbidden and investigate specific cases that come from other countries or from one of our countries,” he said.

By identifying critical infrastructure as locked down, Biden also circled targets that, if attacked by state or non-state actors, would likely deserve a government response.

The White House has so far declined to detail the retaliatory measures taken by the United States in several recent attacks against the cybercriminals themselves on the grounds that such information must remain confidential.

During the phone call on Friday, Putin and Biden also praised their teams’ joint work after the meeting in Geneva, the White House said.

This work led to an important vote in the UN Security Council on Friday to resume the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria.

– CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.