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U.S.-Russia Ransomware Cooperation Is Open Question After Summit

June 18, 2021, 9:00 AM

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s cybersecurity warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that 16 kinds of critical infrastructure should be “off limits” to hacks is a promising development, but concrete plans are necessary to stem the rising tide of ransomware, attorneys and policy analysts say.

Engaging with Russia to stop cybercrime against critical infrastructure in the U.S.—including pipelines, telecom networks, and water suppliers—is important because it could give U.S. intelligence officials “tangible information,” said Meg King, director of the science and technology innovation program at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.

But it remains to be seen what that relationship will look like in practice, said Paul Ferrillo, a privacy and cybersecurity partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in New York.

“There’s a lot of work to do to get to making rules of the road and rules of conduct,” as it relates to Russia and critical infrastructure, Ferrillo said. “It’s going to take some negotiation and I don’t think it’s going to be quick.”

Future collaboration on the deterrence of such attacks could help “fill in the gaps of knowledge,” with Russian authorities potentially sharing the internet protocol addresses, malware signatures, and techniques of threat actor groups operating in their country, King said.

That exchange of information would help U.S. government and companies identify threats in their systems before an attack could take place, she said.

“Ideally, we would come up with some agreement where Russia will give us info if they hear anything,” King said.

Biden’s remarks to Putin in Geneva are a first step in pushing back against the Russian president’s inaction when it comes to apprehending cybercriminals that launch attacks on the U.S. government and companies, said Linn Freedman, a privacy and cybersecurity partner at Robinson & Cole LLP in Providence, R.I.

Getting Russia to cooperate with the U.S. will be a challenge given how long nation-state hackers on their soil have been targeting American companies, Freedman said.

But Biden’s remarks “set the tone” for a future in which Russia’s enabling of cybercrime is no longer acceptable, she added.

“When you allow people to do whatever they want, they keep going farther and farther,” Freedman said. “This is a warning that Russia can’t keep doing what it’s been doing, and that it’s not business as usual.”

Private Sector Security

Biden’s remarks indicate further executive actions and plans related to ransomware, said Jennifer Beckage, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based founder of an eponymous tech, privacy, and cybersecurity law firm.

“Summits like these are reserved for those great threats to our national security or for significant topics,” Beckage said. “Biden’s remarks really set the stage.”

In the interim, companies need to remember that cybercriminals from Russia and other countries will continue to wreak havoc if they don’t have plans in place, she said. They should continue to share threat information within their business sectors and conduct tabletop exercises to ensure they know how to respond in the event of an attack, Beckage added.

It’s important, however, to remember that further action is needed to tell how successful cyber-diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia will be, Ferrillo said.

“The president is correct that a strong relationship between Biden and Putin will help change these issues,” he said. “But the proof is in the pudding here, whether Putin has the desire or the ability to rein in these cybercriminals.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jake Holland in Washington at jholland@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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