Biden delivers a warning to Putin over ransomware attacks

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President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that his administration would “take any necessary action” to defend the American people and critical U.S. infrastructure in the wake of a massive ransomware attack by Russian cybercriminals.

In a morning phone call, Biden spoke with Putin “about the ongoing ransomware attacks by criminals based in Russia that have impacted the United States and other countries around the world,” according to a readout provided by the White House.

Biden also “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,” the White House said.

The conversation between the foreign counterparts comes as Biden has faced escalating calls this week to retaliate against Russia for the expansive cyberattacks, which most recently targeted IT management software maker Kaseya.

That hack, disclosed last Friday and suspected to have been perpetrated by the REvil ransomware gang, may have affected as many as 1,500 companies — including a technology vendor that provides services to the Republican National Committee. Other recent high-profile cyberattacks include the digital strikes on Colonial Pipeline and the meatpacking giant JBS in May.

Biden and Putin last spoke at their summit in Geneva three weeks ago, during which the American president warned the Russian dictator against striking key areas of U.S. infrastructure or harboring cybercriminals who orchestrate the attacks.

That face-to-face meeting was a topic of discussion when Biden and Putin spoke on Friday. According to the White House readout, both leaders “commended the joint work of their respective teams” following the summit “that led to the unanimous renewal of cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria” in the U.N. Security Council.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended that aspect of the conversation in a briefing on Friday afternoon, arguing it was “consistent with the president’s view that diplomacy includes working together where there is opportunity and agreement, and being clear and candid and forthright when there is disagreement.”

Psaki even promoted the call itself as a small measure of progress. She noted that the recent communication between Biden and Putin “is 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.”

But the press secretary also warned that although U.S. intelligence officials “don’t have additional or new information suggesting the Russian government directed” the recent cyberattacks, “we also know and we also believe that they have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to take action.”

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