President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he sent a clear message to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin regarding ransomware attacks that emanate from Moscow.
“He knows I will take action like we did this last time out,” Biden told reporters Wednesday after he met with Putin in Geneva in reference to U.S. sanctions against Moscow imposed in April over alleged 2020 election interference and cyberattacks.
"I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off-limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means," the president stated. "I gave them a list, and I don't have it in front of me, if I am not mistaken, of 16 entities — 16 defined as critical infrastructure, from the energy sector to our water systems."
"So, we agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off-limits and to follow up on specific cases that originate in other countries, and that's either of our countries," he continued.
Both Putin and Biden agreed to return their ambassadors to their foreign posts in a bid to lower tensions – Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov was recalled from Washington in March after Biden called Putin a killer and U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow in April after Russia suggested he return to D.C. for consultations.
Biden also hammered the need for both countries to “take action against criminals that conduct ransomware activities on their territory” following two ransomware attacks in the past month that have impacted American citizens believed to have been perpetrated by criminals in Russia.
The first was in May on Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest gas pipeline. The attack shut the company down — approximately 5,500 miles of fuel pipeline — leading to gas shortages in the Southeast. The second attack targeted JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier.
“When I talked about the pipeline that was hit with ransomware in the United States, I looked at him and I said, ‘How would you feel if ransomware took the pipelines from your oil fields?’” Biden said.
Putin replied that “it would matter.”
"So, we agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off-limits and to follow up on specific cases that originate in other countries, and that's either of our countries," said Biden.
"We'll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.”
Putin will likely act because “confidence matters to him and to other world leaders of big nations,” said Biden. If these attacks continue unpunished, “his credibility worldwide shrinks.
“Let’s get this straight. How would it be if the U.S. was viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it? What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he has engaged in – it diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power.”
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