U.S. authorities are running into a major obstacle in holding hackers responsible for an onslaught of ransomware attacks: The extortionists remain out of reach in Russia, safely ensconced behind a cybercurtain as difficult to penetrate as the iron one that defined the Cold War.
“The criminal hacking the Russian government is willing to tolerate and take advantage of is beyond what we see in virtually every other country,” said John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security prosecutor who has battled ransomware since 2017. “It is very difficult to stop hacking when it is occurring in a country that is more than just tolerating it, but is quite happy with it.”
Recent high-profile ransomware assaults have added urgency to U.S. government efforts to combat Russia-linked hackers who have disrupted East Coast U.S. fuel supplies, raised fears about nationwide meat shortages and exposed sensitive files from a Southern California police force. The problem, Justice Department officials say, is that the Kremlin believes it benefits from allowing such hackers to target U.S. interests, gathering valuable intelligence in the process.
President Biden is expected to discuss Russian ransomware attacks with allies during his European trip, hoping to find common ground in confronting the Kremlin. Advisors say he will also seek to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin during a June 16 meeting in Geneva to rein in hackers.
- Behind Russia’s cyber curtain, ransomware hackers remain out of reach
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