India among countries to lead thematic discussions at counter ransomware initiative meet: White House

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India is among the four countries that have volunteered to organise and lead specific thematic discussions at the first-of-its-kind international meeting to counter ransomware convened by the Biden administration, that will chalk out a four-part strategy to address the challenges posed in the cyberworld, the White House said on Wednesday.

Joined by ministers and senior officials from over 30 countries and the European Union to accelerate cooperation to counter ransomware, the two-day meet that ends on Thursday, builds on President Joe Biden’s leadership to rally allies and partners to counter the shared threat of ransomware.

“While the United States is facilitating this meeting, we don’t view this solely as a US initiative. Indeed, we’re bringing other countries together,” a senior administration official said.

“Many governments have been indispensable in organising the meeting, and four countries in particular have volunteered to lead and organise specific thematic discussions: India for resilience, Australia for disruption, the UK for virtual currency, and Germany for diplomacy,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House official described a four-part strategy to coordinate a whole-of-government effort.

“First: disrupt ransomware infrastructure and actors. We’re bringing the full weight of US government capabilities to disrupt ransomware actors, networks, financial infrastructure, and other facilitators,” the official said.

The second part of the strategy is bolstering resilience to withstand ransomware attacks.

“Even as we work to disrupt criminal ransomware networks, we also have to address our own vulnerabilities so we’re not easy targets,” the official said.

“Third, we’re addressing the abuse of virtual currency to launder ransom payments. We’re leveraging existing and acquiring new capabilities to trace and interdict ransomware proceeds,” the official said.

“Finally, leveraging international cooperation to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem and address safe harbours for ransomware criminals,” said the official.

Countries participating in the two-day meet include Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UAE, and the UK.

According to a White House fact-sheet, ransomware incidents have disrupted critical services and businesses worldwide – schools, banks, government offices, emergency services, hospitals, energy companies, transportation, and food companies have all been affected. Ransomware attackers have targeted organisations of all sizes, regardless of where they are located.

The global economic losses from ransomware are significant. Ransomware payments reached over USD 400 million globally in 2020, and topped USD 81 million in the first quarter of 2021, illustrating the financially driven nature of these activities.

According to the White House, the Administration is working closely with international partners to address the shared threat of ransomware and galvanise global political will to counter ransomware activities – as reflected in the recent G7 and North Atlantic Treasury Organisation (NATO) joint statements, and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) efforts, among others. The Administration continues to advocate for expanded membership in, and implementation of, the Budapest Convention and its principles, it said.

Further, US departments and agencies continue to engage with countries to improve their capacity for addressing ransomware threats, including through capacity building that promotes cybersecurity best practices and combats cybercrime, such as trainings on network defence and resilience, cyber hygiene, virtual currency analysis, and other training and technical assistance to foreign law enforcement partners to combat criminal misuse of information technologies.

“The United States remains committed to eliminating safe harbours for ransomware criminals through a more direct diplomatic approach. President Biden has directly engaged President Putin and established the White House and Kremlin Experts Group to directly discuss and address ransomware activity,” it said.

“The Experts Group continues to meet to address the ransomware threat and to press Russia to act against criminal ransomware activities emanating from its territory. The President has made clear the United States will act to protect our people and critical infrastructure,” the White House said.

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