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White House sees 'sign' in new ransomware group's pledge

A senior White House official on Wednesday said remarks by a new Russia ransomware gang that it wouldn’t target U.S. critical infrastructure is a sign that the administration’s calls for the Kremlin to crack down on cybercriminals is working.

In an interview with a Recorded Future analyst published by The Record, representatives from BlackMatter — which some suspect is a reconstituted version of the DarkSide gang that hacked Colonial Pipeline earlier this year — said the organization would only go after large companies with annual revenues of over $100 million.

The comments come weeks after President Joe Biden presented Russian President Vladimir Putin with a list of critical infrastructure and said it was “off-limits” to cyberattacks. He publicly vowed that if they were hit by Russian-based digital criminals, the U.S. would respond.

"We think we're seeing a commitment, and we will look to see the actions that follow on that commitment,” Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum. 

She noted that the administration has “observed a number of overall comments” by Russian government officials following the presidential summit in Geneva, including by the head of the FSB security service who expressed an interest in partnering more with Washington.

“As we looked at that interview, we took it as evidence, or perhaps as a sign, that the message regarding the disruptive ransomware activity against critical infrastructure is unacceptable, and we will address it — we felt that message was reflected in some of that,” according to Neuberger.

She stressed that other administration officials, and Biden himself, have said “the proof will be in the pudding.”

“We're looking to see the changes and addressing disruptive cyber activity over time,” she said, later suggesting it is possible the interview was not with actual BlackMatter representatives.

Neuberger said there is already “a broader consensus" around the need to call out Russia's bad behavior and "impose costs when it crosses a significant line." Whereas with China “there's still that building of consensus” about how to best to take action against Beijing.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.