A top U.S. official is warning that recent major ransomware attacks against the United States under President Joe Biden are likely to continue as the attackers become “more brazen.”
The remarks from Chris Butera, head of Threat Hunting for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), come after the oil and meat industries have recently been hit hard by the cyberattacks that officials believe are coming from Russia.
“The ransomware actors have become more brazen,” Butera said. “They’ve started to exfiltrate data and try to extort payments.”
Butera said he expects to “continue to see” the ransomware attacks happen and he urged companies not to pay the ransoms, which is the U.S. government’s official position.
Major ransomware attacks have occurred recently against companies in the oil and gas industry, the insurance industry, the transportation industry, and the meat industry. The ransomware attacks followed a massive cyberattack against the U.S., again believed to be from Russia, that infiltrated more than 250 federal agencies.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki blamed the companies themselves for being victims of the attacks, saying they have a responsibility to protect themselves. When a reporter asked her why these attacks were seemingly increasing under Biden, she mocked the reporter by saying he should go ask the criminals in Russia. When Biden was asked if he would retaliate against Russia, he did not give a definitive answer and laughed when asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin was “testing” him.
REPORTER: "Do you think Putin is testing you" after latest Russian ransomware attack?
BIDEN SMIRKING: "No." pic.twitter.com/Xiid92stjF
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) June 2, 2021
“U.S. policy needs to more directly engage with ransomware,” Resident Fellow for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Klon Kitchen told Fox News. “We need to change the political calculus of foreign governments who allow ransomware attackers to operate with impunity within their borders.”
“It’s time for the United States to start putting heads on spikes when it comes to confronting and dismantling ransomware groups,” Kitchen continued. “If President Biden does not confront Vladimir Putin about the ransomware groups perpetrating from within Russia, he will be failing in his duty to protect the United States from these types of attacks.”
Former CIA officer Bryan Dean Wright told The Daily Wire that Russia was launching these cyberattacks against the U.S. for a variety of reasons, but primarily to make life difficult for America.
Wright’s remarks to The Daily Wire come after Moscow threatened the U.S. on Monday, saying, “The Americans must assume that a number of signals from Moscow … will be uncomfortable for them, including in the coming days.”
“Putin uses proxy forces — like Russian crime syndicates or armed mercenaries — to engage in low grade, asymmetrical warfare,” Wright said. “Some say this gives him plausible deniability but that’s only marginally true. He knows we know, and he doesn’t care.”
Dean listed some of the following reasons on why the Russians engage in asymmetrical warfare against the U.S.:
- We make life difficult for the Russians, namely in our past expansion of NATO into their back yard. We made certain promises about Ukraine — basically that we’d leave it alone — and we didn’t. The Russians haven’t forgotten.
- Many older Russians — including and especially Putin & his Govt bureaucrats — still hate America for winning the Cold War. Watching us suffer or poking us in the eye makes them feel good.
- Relatedly, the Russians want us to be at each other’s throats. Creating or encouraging conflict between Americans — and especially directing it at certain political leaders — builds resentments that can be leveraged for covert influence campaigns designed to weaken our bonds. That’s helpful for times of conventional warfare or during moments of delicate foreign policy engagements. Or they do it just to watch us suffer.
- There’s an unwieldy mix between corrupt Russian politicians, oligarchs, and the asymmetrical actors like cyber syndicates. They make money off each other. So long as they don’t make too big of a mess globally — US gas lines eventually come back, we quickly get our meat packing plants running again — then it’s a low drag way of greasing lots of palms.
- Putin needs a foil. We’re it. For domestic audiences, he needs to convince his people that their old enemy remains just as dangerous in order to keep / firm up his electoral hold. For foreign audiences, it helps cement his aura of the man who will stand up to Washington. He leverages that to expand Russian influence abroad.
- Putin generally hates our foreign policy. He thinks we speak in lofty rhetoric, roll in with tanks / diplomatic regime change, and roll back out when the job gets messy, leaving a disaster. So wherever we go, he’s there to gum up the works.
- Tactically, when these asymmetrical actors probe us for weaknesses or hack our systems, the Russians learn our countermeasures and policy making processes / responses. In turn, that helps them refine how to better attack or disable us if the day ever comes for bigger, more overt or conventional warfare. Said differently, there’s a clear military calculus to hacking our infrastructure.