White House to launch ransomware task force to coordinate offensive and defensive responses to crisis



The Biden administration is launching a cross-government task force to combat ransomware attacks, following a series of high-profile hacks that underscored how digital weaknesses can wreak havoc on American society.

Through the task force, federal agencies will promote digital resilience among critical infrastructure companies, launch cyberattacks on ransomware operators, develop mechanisms for halting ransom payments made through cryptocurrency platforms and coordinate these activities with foreign allies, according to a Senate aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, previewed the administration’s plan during a 35-minute briefing for senators on Wednesday afternoon.

Key context: The establishment of the task force comes as lawmakers and experts are pressuring Joe Biden to respond more forcefully to Vladimir Putin’s inaction against ransomware operators, who in recent months have paralyzed Colonial Pipeline’s fuel distribution system, crippled JBS’ meat processing facilities and breached the IT software vendor Kaseya and hundreds of companies connected to it.

“We’ve got to send a very strong, even disproportionate, message to Russia that we’re not going to tolerate this,” House Homeland Security ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) told Bloomberg last week.

Additional measures: Neuberger also told senators that the White House will announce three other steps in the coming days, the Senate aide said.

DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will launch an interagency website, stopransomware.gov, to collect defensive guidance from various agencies. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network will convene a virtual conference on ransomware in August. And the State Department will use its “Rewards for Justice” program to offer cash payments for tips leading to the arrests of ransomware operators.

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