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Biden will ask Putin to take action against Russia’s ransomware criminals at upcoming Geneva summit

June 3, 2021, 7:56 PM UTC

President Joe Biden will press President Vladimir Putin at their meeting this month to crack down on criminal hackers based in Russia, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

The U.S. president’s message at the one-on-one meeting in Geneva on June 16 will be that “responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals, and responsible countries must take decisive action against those ransomware networks,” Psaki said.

Hackers have disrupted critical U.S. services in a series of attacks, demanding that companies pay a ransom to unfreeze data and computers. Victims have included Colonial Pipeline Co. and JBS SA, the world’s largest meat processor.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that Biden’s message needs to be clear and definitive: “You continue to do this, you will pay a price. Period,” Panetta said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power” program.

“President Biden has to make very clear that there are lines here that the Russians cannot cross,” Panetta, who also served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he said. “Putin only understands very strong talk.”

Although Panetta, a former Democratic congressman, didn’t specify what steps could be taken against Russia, he mentioned that the U.S. has developed capabilities to mount offensive cyber operations.

U.S. officials have determined that criminal hacking groups behind the attacks were probably operating from Russia. The Russian government has denied knowing about or being involved in the attacks, a claim that Panetta said he doesn’t believe.

“These criminal organizations are operating under the cover of the Russian government, and they’re basically doing what the Russian government supports, which is to undermine the United States of America,” Panetta said.

The Biden administration also needs to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that involves working with the private sector and developing cutting-edge technologies, Panetta said.

Panetta added that it’s “dangerous” for companies to keep paying ransoms to hackers. “If they pay off these ransoms, what they do is they send a signal to these criminal organizations to continue to do what they’re doing,” he said.

—With assistance from Justin Sink and Jennifer Epstein.

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