2020_0929 - Russian Hacking

Too early to tell' if Russia has cracked down on ransomware gangs, Nakasone says

The country’s top military cyber official on Wednesday said that is too soon to know if the Kremlin has taken action against ransomware gangs operating on Russian soil.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who leads U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said at the Aspen Security Forum.

It's been nearly five months since President Joe Biden demanded Russian leader Vladimir Putin crack down on ransomware operating with Russian territory. Following the meeting, the two created an experts group on cybersecurity where administration officials have provided the Kremlin with information about certain cyber criminals and conveyed what actions Washington expects the government to take against them.

“We’ve seen some steps by the Russian government and are looking to see follow-up actions,” a senior administration official told reporters last month before the White House held a two-day virtual ransomware summit. The official declined to elaborate.

However, several senior officials across the government have publicly said they see no evidence of any change in Russian behavior and raised doubts that the Kremlin could, or would, act.

Nakasone said more time was needed before rendering a verdict.

“Let’s let this play out,” he said. “There’s engagement going on.”

His remarks came the same day The Washington Post reported that Cyber Command and a foreign government launched operations that shut down the notorious digital group known as “REvil.” The organizations is widely believed to operate out of Russia and was responsible for the ransomware attacks on meat processor JBS and software company Kaseya earlier this year.

Naksone declined to comment on the article. He stressed that both of the agencies he leads have launched a “surge” to combat the proliferation of ransomware — which he has predicted would remain a top threat to the country’s economic and national security for the next several years.

“We bring our best people together” to figure out how to go after criminal operations, learn about their capabilities and go after their flow of illicit money, he said.

“I would say we’ve made a lot of progress and I’m pleased with the progress that we’ve made and we’ve got a lot more to do,” according to Nakasone.

Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication's cybersecurity newsletter.

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