The Biden administration is reviewing possible ways to punish Moscow over ransomware attacks for which Washington is blaming Russian criminals, without offering evidence, and trying to hold the Kremlin accountable.
Cyberattacks – including recent hacks disrupting the largest US transporter of refined fuels and the world’s biggest meatpacker – “will certainly be a topic of discussion” when President Joe Biden meets with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday.
Psaki said Biden will make clear to Putin that “harboring criminal entities that are intending to do harm, that are doing harm to the critical infrastructure in the United States, is not acceptable.
We are not going to stand by that. We will raise that, and we are not going to take options off the table.
While the Geneva summit will be an opportunity for Biden and Putin to discuss the issue directly, Psaki said, “we’re doing our own review of a range of options as well from here.” She added that “responsible countries need to take decisive action against ransomware networks,” and said Biden will reiterate to Putin that “responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals.”
The comments came after this week’s ransomware attack against JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, which forced the temporary shutdowns of nine beef plants. There was also a similar hacking attack last month against Colonial Pipeline, which led to fuel shortages in the US Southeast.
The discussion over penalizing the Russian government for the two recent cyberattacks comes after the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Moscow in April, partly over last year’s SolarWinds hack, which penetrated US government and private-sector systems. Moscow denied being responsible for the attack and said the US allegations were unsubstantiated.
Regarding the JBS hack, Psaki declined to address “specifics of the ransom requests or its origin.” She said Biden believes Putin and the Russian government have “a role to play in stopping and preventing these attacks.”
Questioned whether Putin might be testing Biden through the hacking incidents, she said, “Our view is that when there are criminal entities within a country, they certainly have a responsibility. It is a role that the government can play.”
Psaki chafed when asked why ransomware attacks appear to be increasing since Biden took office in January, saying she wasn’t the right person to ask. “I think you could certainly go track down those cybercriminals in Russia and have a good chat with them.”
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The press secretary also pushed back against comments this week by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov suggesting that Washington was violating the human rights of people accused of participating in the US Capitol riot on January 6.
“We don’t use the Russian government as our guide to human rights models in the world, but I will say that the president has not held back in his view that attacks on January 6 were a mark on democracy, a dark day in our own democracy, and I’m sure he would be happy to repeat that,” Psaki said.
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She added that the range of topics to be discussed at the summit also will likely include Ukraine, as well as opportunities to work together on nuclear capabilities and security.
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