US officials pressure firms, foreign adversaries in fight against cyber attacks

WASHINGTON • US officials have ratcheted up pressure on companies and foreign adversaries to fight cyber criminals, and said President Joe Biden is considering all options, including a military response, to counter the growing threat.

The Biden administration is looking at "all of the options" to defend the country against ransomware criminals, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in an interview on Sunday, when asked if military action was being considered. She did not detail what those options could look like, but said the topic will be on the agenda when Mr Biden meets Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.

The rising threat of cyber attacks has pushed the Biden administration into a more aggressive stance against Russia, which is thought to be harbouring some of the perpetrators. "We're not taking anything off the table as we think about possible repercussions, consequences or retaliation," Ms Raimondo said.

Last week, meatpacker JBS was targeted by cyber criminals and last month, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States was attacked, stoking fears over supply disruptions of food and fuel.

US adversaries have the ability to shut down the country's entire power grid, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said separately in an interview with CNN, noting "thousands of attacks on all aspects of the energy sector".

The high-profile attacks have prompted Mr Biden to put the issue of Russia harbouring hackers on the agenda for his meeting with Mr Putin. The White House plans to use the June 16 summit to deliver a clear message to the Russian leader, officials say. A next step could be destabilisation of computer servers used for such hacks, cyber experts say.

US officials are asking private firms to be more vigilant and transparent about attacks. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday said the May attack on Colonial Pipeline, which created temporary fuel shortages, showed the national implications of a hack on a private business. "Part of our vulnerability on cyber security is you're only as strong as your weakest link," he said in a CBS interview.

Companies need to alert the federal government when they are targeted, Ms Granholm said, adding: "You shouldn't be paying ransomware attacks, because it only encourages the bad guys." However, she said she is uncertain if Mr Biden or Congress is prepared to outlaw such payments.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2021, with the headline 'US officials pressure firms, foreign adversaries in fight against cyber attacks'. Subscribe