Biden urges Putin to act on ransomware attacks, hints retaliation

President Joe Biden pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to act against hackers in his country blamed for recent ransomware attacks affecting thousands of companies around the world, warning that the US would defend networks considered vital to the economy.

“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 him to act,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday, after about an hour-long call with the Russian leader.

Putin told Biden that their cybersecurity discussions must be “professional and depoliticized” and that he welcomes “in-depth and constructive” cooperation on the issue, according to a Kremlin statement. He noted the U.S. hasn’t asked Russia for any assistance on the attacks in the last month.

The White House said in a statement that 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.”

Biden stressed the U.S. “will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge,” according to the statement.

The U.S. president is facing pressure to respond following a spate of ransomware attacks believed to have originated in Russia, including an audacious breach last week that affected more than 1,000 businesses with victims in at least 17 countries and a cyberattack against the Republican National Committee.

A Russia-linked ransomware gang known as REvil is believed to be behind the attack that affected IT management software made by Kaseya Ltd. and Russian government hackers are thought to be responsible for the RNC attack, according to people familiar with the matter. The Biden administration has not officially attributed either attack to Russia.

The assaults have continued even after Biden set red lines for cyberattacks during a summit with Putin last month in Geneva. Biden said he gave Putin a list during the meeting of 16 critical sectors that, if attacked, could provoke US retaliation.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that REvil “operates in Russia and other countries around the world.”

But she said “we don’t have additional or new information suggesting the Russian government directed these attacks.”

Cyber officials from the U.S. and Russia are due to hold talks next week, she said at a briefing.

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