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Biden Tells Putin Russia Must ‘Take Action’ to Combat Cybercriminals

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they arrive for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Reuters)

During a phone call with President Vladimir Putin on Friday, President Biden demanded that the Russian leader “take action” against cybercriminals based in his country, affirming that the United States will “defend its people and its critical infrastructure,” amid targeted ransomware attacks on thousands of American companies in recent months.

“President Biden underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and emphasized that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware,” said a White House statement about the call.

“President 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,” the statement added.

The two heads of state recently met in Geneva for a bilateral summit, during which Biden addressed the ongoing cyber threat stemming from Russia and warned the Russian dictator against harboring cyber terrorists.

During a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the phone call covered the latest cyber-attack traced to Russia. The culprit is believed to be REvil, a Russia-based hacking outfit, which cybersecurity researchers said hit 17 countries and as many as 1,500 businesses, including a technology vendor hired by the Republican National Committee.

Other recent high-profile strikes include the Colonial Pipeline hack, which rendered the entire network inoperative for days, cutting off roughly 45 percent of fuel supply consumed along the East Coast.

Psaki also suggested that the call was a positive development in U.S.-Russia relations, saying that it marked “the first time — even though ransomware attacks have been increasing over the past 18 months, if not longer — that there has been this level of engagement at this level.”

She suggested that while there is insufficient evidence for the U.S. to blame the Russian government for perpetrating the cyber assaults, Moscow must be held accountable to actively deter and prevent them.

“We also know and we also believe that they have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to take action,” Psaki concluded.

She declined to specify the tone of the phone call, whether it was demanding or forceful, or if the president would resort to constructive or retaliatory measures to curb cyberattacks in the future.

“While we’re not going to preview operationally what that looks like or what he may decide to do, [Biden] did make clear that he reserves that option to take action,” Psaki  affirmed.

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