US President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that he must “take action” against cyber criminals acting in his country and warned the US wouldÂ “defend its people and its critical infrastructure” from any future attacks.
- Cyber attacks have increasedÂ since Mr Biden and Mr Putin last spoke in Geneva
- The US President is under pressure to show there will be consequences if the attacks continue
- The Kremlin has promised to co-operate with US authorities to try and end cyber-warfare
The messageÂ to Mr Putin was largely a repetition of the tough rhetoric Mr Biden had used during their meeting in Geneva last month, when he warned that there would be consequences for continuing cyber attacks comingÂ from Russia.
Since then, a new ransomware attack linked to the Russia-based REvil hacking group has caused widespread disruption, placing Mr Biden under growing pressure to this time marry the warning with actions though none were immediately announced.
“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 we give them enough information to act on who that is,” Mr Biden said, speaking to reporters at an event on economic competitiveness.
Asked whether there will be consequences, he said, “Yes.”
The call with Mr Putin underscored the extent to which the ransomware threat from criminal hacker gangs has mushroomed into an urgent national security challenge for the White House, and it suggested a possible concession by the administration that earlier warnings to the Russian leader had failed to curb a criminal activity that has taken aim at businesses across the globe.
Australia is not immune to such cyber threats.
US President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken about cyber attacks in an hour-long call.(Reuters:Â Kevin Lamarque/Alexei Nikolsky
Abattoir staff were forced to work after meat processor JBS was crippled by a ransomware cyber attack in early June.
Cybersecurity consultant and partner at McGrath Nicol Darren Hopkins works with businesses that have been attacked by ransomware.
He told the ABCÂ agribusinesses were vulnerable.
“The major organised crime groups that run these attacks have actually called out that they’re targeting agricultural groups,” he said.
“REvil [a Russian-based group] according to the company is allegedly responsible for this attack that we’re seeing with JBS at the moment.
“In October last year, they actually said the agricultural sector was something that they were going to target, and moving forward it’s an area they’re looking to actually disrupt more.”
Joe Biden ‘optimistic’ Russia will stop cyber-attacks
Mr Biden told reporters that the USÂ and Russia have “set up a means of communication now on a regular basis to be able to communicate with one another when each of us thinks something is happening in another country that affects the home country. And so it went well. I’m optimistic.”
In its own summary of the call, the Kremlin said “[Mr] Putin noted that despite the Russian side’s readiness to jointly stop criminal activities in the information sphere, US agencies haven’t made any requests during the past month”.
The Kremlin said the two leaders emphasised the need for cooperation on cybersecurity, which it said “must be permanent, professional and non-politicised and should be conducted via special communication channels and with respect to international law”.
The White House declined to discuss the tone of Mr Biden’s call, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it did focus significantly on the latest breach, which cybersecurity researchers have said infected victims in at least 17 countries, largely through firms that remotely manage IT infrastructure for multiple customers.
A May attack on a pipeline that supplies roughly half the fuel consumed on the US east coast caused the company to temporarily halt operations.
US officials say the ransomware attack on JBS was carried out by Russia-linked hackers.(Reuters: Paulo Whitaker/File photo
In Australia, similar attacks on key infrastructure was keeping a national security chief “awake at night”.
One of Australia’s top national security figures has warned the threat of a cyber attack on Australia’s critical infrastructure is “immediate”, “realistic” and “credible”, and could take down the nation’s electricity network.
Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo says the threat posed by sophisticated criminals and hackers acting for other nations isÂ “deeply concerning”.
“Of all the things that keep me awake at night, and there are quite a number, that is the most pressing, immediate concern,” he told Senate estimates in May.
“COVID has been dreadful, COVID has been terrible given the deaths, imagine trying to do COVID without electricity.
“It’s as immediate, it is as realistic, and it is as credible a threat as that.”