C’mon, Man! Biden Asks Putin to Crack Down on Ransomware Hackers (Again)

C’mon, Man! Biden Asks Putin to Crack Down on Ransomware Hackers (Again)
Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP, Getty Images

In light of ongoing ransomware attacks originating from Russia, U.S. President Joe Biden made a phone call to Vladimir Putin on Friday, stressing that Russia should crack down on cybercriminals operating within its borders, while adding that the U.S. will take “any necessary action” to defend itself against future attacks.

Whether it’s the Colonial Pipeline attack or the JBS attack that threatened Americans’ pork supply, the ransomware gangs that have claimed responsibility for this year’s biggest hacks have consistently hailed from Eastern Europe, typically Russia.

Now, with the severity and scope of the recent Kaseya attack, which took place over the July 4 weekend and was reportedly executed by Russian cyber gang REvil, pressure has been mounting for the Biden administration to do something to stop the seemingly incessant wave of cyber carnage — with the prevailing wisdom being that Biden should force Putin to deal with the issue internally. On top of everything, an apparent hack of the Republican National Committee only a week ago — reputedly at the hands of Russian government spies — has only added fuel to the fire.

Thus, a phone call. The call, which took place at some point Friday, occurred only weeks after the two leaders met during a summit in Geneva to discuss, among other things, the ongoing cyberattacks. At the time, Biden said that the conversation between them had been “good, positive” and that the two had discussed some strategies regarding cybersecurity — though, apparently, those strategies haven’t paid off yet.

During a press appearance this afternoon, a journalist caught Biden on his way out the door, and the two had a brief exchange about the president’s talk with the Russian leader (via a video obtained by the Washington Post):

REPORTER: How did Putin respond to your call today, sir?

BIDEN: Well, I made it very clear to him that the United States expects, when a ransomware operation is coming from his soil, even though it’s not sponsored by the state, we expect them to act, if given enough information to act on who that is. And secondly, that we have set up a means of communications now on a regular basis, to be able to communicate with one another when each of us thinks something’s happening in another country that affects the home country. And so it went well. I’m optimistic.

REPORTER: You said three weeks ago there would be consequences. Will there be, sir?

BIDEN: Yes.

The obvious question is: Uh, yeah, but what are those consequences going to be? And is it appropriate to dole them out if it can’t be confirmed that the Russian government is, in some way, playing a role in these attacks (common wisdom says that they are not — though this is something of a grey area). It’s all pretty unclear.

As I’ve already written about at some length, it’s been interesting to watch people who seem to have assumed Biden would come into office and, upon meeting Putin, promptly dropkick him across a room or something. No, diplomacy is still a thing and, short of some foreign policy decisions that literally nobody wants to see get made, it’s pretty much the only way the White House is going to get Russia to do anything.

Interestingly, there seem to be some discrepancies between Russia and the U.S. over how well that whole diplomacy thing is going, however.

On Friday, Putin apparently told Biden that Russia was willing to work with the U.S. on the ransomware problem but that “U.S. law enforcement agencies had not approached Russian authorities” to discuss the attacks, the Washington Post reports — which, if you listen to Biden officials, is not true.

Indeed, a senior Biden administration official shot down that narrative: “We have relayed multiple specific requests for action on cyber criminals” to Moscow, “and been clear about what Russia’s responsibility is with regard to taking action, including again today,” they told the newspaper.