Biden administration under fire for lack of public action on ransomware attacks

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday President Biden is sending a “clear message” to Russia about ongoing ransomware attacks, but she wouldn’t say what he would do to enforce the red line he drew for President Putin last month.

“If the Russian government cannot or will not act against criminal actors residing in Russia, we will act,” Ms. Psaki said. “In terms of what we will do, I’m not in a position, of course, to discuss operations.”

Mr. Biden has come under fire from Republicans and some media outlets accusing him of inaction on the spate of cyber attacks targeting the United States in recent months.

The president had already delivered a verbal warning to Mr. Putin during a one-on-one summit in Geneva but has not moved ahead with more aggressive moves to target the infrastructure used by hacking groups who hide within Russia.

Ms. Psaki said Thursday Mr. Biden said a “clear message” to his Russian counterpart during the summit.

“We’re continuing to send that clear message in our engagements as well,” she continued.

While the administration weighs its options, there is also concern among officials that retaliation could push Russia to escalate its own actions. The recent cyberattacks have highlighted how vulnerable American businesses and government agencies are to ransomware hacks.

Ms. Psaki insisted Thursday that because the attacks are coming from inside Russia, it should be Mr. Putin’s responsibility to handle the threat. Adding that the United States will act if Russia does not.

She said Mr. Biden would take that message to Mr. Putin if they were meeting now.

“If you do not take action to crack down on criminal actors in your country — even if the government didn’t know — we will. We reserve that option and that continues to be our clear message,” Ms. Psaki said.

Pressure is mounting for Mr. Biden to take action, after issuing a series of warnings. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on Thursday implored Mr. Biden to send a strong message to Russia and others who tolerate cybercriminals.

“If the U.S. doesn’t respond, it will be open season on America’s digital infrastructure,” the editorial board wrote.”Proportionate retaliation runs the risk of escalation. But after publicly drawing a red line, Mr. Biden has no choice lest he show Mr. Putin and other thugs around the world that the U.S. President’s words are empty.”

The U.S. has been victimized by two cyberattacks in under a week.

Hackers this week gained access to a contractor for the Republican  National Committee. The RNC said the hackers did not access any of its data.

The attack has been linked to a group from Russia, known as Cozy Bear, according to a report by Bloomberg. However, White House officials say they have not attributed the attack to a specific group.

A separate attack by the Russian-based REvil hacking group struck targeted at least 200 U.S. companies over the Independence Day weekend.

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