White House kicks off international ransomware meeting amid global barrage

United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R) speaks with Britain's National Security Advisor Sir Stephen Lovegrove during a meeting of National Security Advisors at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on October 7, 2021. (Photo by Virginia Mayo / POOL / AFP / Getty Images)

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A parade of nations recounted grim experiences with ransomware at the start of a two-day White House-led summit on Wednesday, where the gathered officials will collaborate on how to counter the rise of digital extortion.

Israel was, at the moment, dealing with an ongoing ransomware attack at a major hospital, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center. Ireland and the Czech Republic have experienced similar attacks on their medical centers. South Korea has seen a 70% year-over-year increase in ransomware incidents, and the United Arab Emirates has seen a 200% rise.

Each anecdote, each statistic fed into the White House message for the day that ransomware is a global issue that will require collective action. Scheduled sessions will cover resilience, illicit finance, disrupting criminals and diplomacy, each led by officials from a different country.

“No one country, no one group can solve this problem,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. “Transnational criminals are most often the perpetrators of ransomware crimes, and they often leverage global infrastructure and money laundering networks across multiple countries, multiple jurisdictions to carry out their attacks.”

Nations will have to work together “to hold criminals and the states that harbor them accountable, and to reduce the threat to our citizens in each of our countries,” Sullivan said.

The White House has notably blamed Russia as one of the states that harbors ransomware criminals, excluding the country from this week’s summit of more than 30 nations.

Sullivan alluded to upcoming United Nations cybercrime treaty negotiations, an area where the U.S. and Russia also are at loggerheads.

The gathered nations are primarily like-minded in their recognition of the ransomware threat, he said.

“Our governments may have different approaches with respect to the tools we believe are best to counter ransomware — everything from how to secure our networks, to leverage diplomatic tools, and even the most effective ways to counter illicit finance,” Sullivan said.

Several nations touted those different approaches to ransomware, such as Australia highlighting its recently-unveiled ransomware action plan. The government is moving forward with plans to seize cryptocurrency transactions suspected to be involved in ransomware payments, and updating legislation to enhance law enforcement officials’ oversight of the financial ecosystem.

Before moving the meeting to sessions closed to the press, Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger said: “There can be moments of extreme difficulty in our work to improve resiliency and fight cybercrime. It will be important moving forward to recall this moment of partnership and that no one country is ever truly alone in the fight against ransomware.”

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Anne Neuberger, Australia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel, Jake Sullivan, ransomware, Russia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates (UAE), White House
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