President Joe Biden on November 8 reiterated the US government’s stance on dealing with cyber security issues, especially the ransomware ecosystem. This statement came on a day when the US Justice Department arrested a Ukrainian national, Yaroslav Vasinskyi for allegedly deploying Revil ransomware in July 2021 against Kaseya, a multi-national information technology software company.
We are bringing the full strength of the federal government to disrupt malicious cyber activity and actors, bolster resilience at home, address the abuse of virtual currency to launder ransom payments, and leverage international cooperation to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem and address safe harbors for ransomware criminals — US President Joe Biden
Russia and China have been in the cross-hairs of the US government for allegedly perpetrating state-sponsored cyberattacks targetting the country’s critical infrastructure. The Biden administration has been publicly calling out both these nation-states over these alleged attacks, and in the November 8 statement released by the White House, Biden said, “When I met with President Putin in June, I made clear that the United States would take action to hold cybercriminals accountable,”
Timeline: Biden’s cybersecurity policies since becoming President
In the statement, the US President also claimed that it has taken a number of steps to strengthen the country’s critical infrastructure against cyber attacks. Here is a look at the key decisions Biden has taken regarding cybersecurity since he became the President on January 20, 2021.
This policy which came on the heels of digital attacks such as Colonel Pipeline and SolarWinds, focused on protecting US federal government networks with assistance from the private sector.
The order expects to —
- Remove barriers in sharing threat information between government and private sector.
- Modernise cybersecurity standards in the federal government.
- Improve software supply chain security.
- Establish a cybersecurity safety review board.
- Create a SOP for responding to cyber incidents.
- Improve detection of cybersecurity incidents on federal government networks.
The US government expanded the ban on Americans investing in Chinese companies with purported ties to China’s military to cover companies in the surveillance technology sector, the executive order stated. The blacklist now includes 59 Chinese companies, up from the 48 banned by the previous administration last November.
The order which revoked the previous administration’s order banning TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese, also laid new steps to protect Americans’ sensitive data from “foreign adversaries”.
- Evaluate threats posed by foreign apps: Alleging that “foreign adversaries” continue to steal US persons’ data, the order directed the US Department of Commerce to “use of a criteria-based decision framework and rigorous, evidence-based analysis to address the risks” posed by apps and services that are developed, owned, or controlled by foreign adversaries, namely China.
- Take further steps to protect sensitive data: Stating that apps can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, the order directed the Department of Commerce to consult with other government agencies and “make recommendations to protect against harm from the sale, transfer of, or access to sensitive personal data” to apps owned or controlled by foreign adversaries.
The US along with European Union, the United Kingdom, NATO, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan accused China of —
- Hiring criminal contract hackers
- Perpetrating ransomware attacks against private companies
- Targeting government institutions and political organisations in the EU
- Hacking Microsoft Exchange servers
- Stealing critical public health information
Biden in July warned that a significant cyber attack on the United States can end up in a “real shooting war” with a “major power”. “I think it’s more than likely we’re going to end up, if we end up in a war – a real shooting war with a major power – it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence and it’s increasing exponentially, the capabilities,” Reuters quoted Biden as saying.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is collaborating with tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to fight ransomware and defend cloud computing systems from hackers.
In a meeting with companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and others, several commitments were made by Big Tech for improving cyber security infrastructure in the US. For instance —
- Apple will work with its suppliers to improve supply chain security
- Google will invest $10 billion in improving cybersecurity
- Microsoft will invest in efforts to integrate cybersecurity by design
- Amazon will make its internal security awareness training programme publicly available
Other measures taken up by US to prevent cyberattacks
According to a report by Forbes, the Biden administration announced a slew of measures that is going to be implemented in order to combat cyberattacks in the USA. A few of them are listed below:
- Rewards Programme: As a part of the Justice Department’s Rewards for Justice programme, a reward of up to $10 million is being offered if someone provides any information that leads to the identification or location of anyone who is a part of cyberattacks including ransomware attacks against US critical infrastructure.
- Ransomware Resources: StopRansomware is a new website that consolidates ransomware resources from all federal agencies. It also provides a set of guidelines on how to report on attacks and consolidates the latest ransomware-related alerts and threats from all participating agencies. The website includes resources and contents from CISA, U.S. Secret Service, FBI, National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others.
- Anti-Money Laundering: The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network intends to work with technology firms to prevent money laundering and rapid tracing of ransomware proceeds. It has also announced that it plans to host a second FinCEN exchange in August and discuss ways to combat increasingly sophisticated cyber and ransomware attacks.
- Task Force: The White House had set up an interagency task force back in April as per Biden’s directive, and it has made progress in identifying and coordinating action on a range of issues regarding ransomware.
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