VOA Special English
Biden Told Russian Leader to Stop Computer Attacks


    American President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call last Friday that he must “take action” against cybercriminals.

    The call came less than a month after the two leaders met in Geneva, Switzerland. Biden warned Putin against permitting cyberattacks on U.S. businesses and infrastructure from Russia. Recently, a new ransomware attack linked to the REvil hacking group based in Russia caused widespread disruption around the world.

    The White House said, “President Biden reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge.”

    The REvil attack

    Cybersecurity experts quickly identified the organization that calls itself REvil as responsible for the most recent attacks. The Russia-linked group even seemed to admit involvement publicly. The group offered a software tool on their website to recover data from all affected computers at a cost of $70 million in cryptocurrency.

    The latest attack affected as many as 1,500 businesses around the world. U.S. officials said the damage appeared to be minor. Cybersecurity experts, however, said their information remains incomplete.

    The attack used software that permits computer professionals to enter a computer system from a distance. The company Kaseya, which is based in Miami, Florida, makes the software.

    U.S. officials say they have talked with private businesses about strengthening their computer defenses. They have also tried to make it harder to collect ransomware payments. But the government has been slow to carry out its own offensive cyberattacks because of concerns it could grow into a greater crisis. There are also limits to what the U.S. can do to stop Russian cybercriminals.

    FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.
    FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.

    Biden’s meeting with Putin

    During their meeting in June, Biden said he gave Putin a list of 16 important parts of U.S. infrastructure that he said were off-limits to attack. They included water systems and the energy industry. He said, "responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory."

    Biden also suggested that he told Putin he is ready to answer should the Russians go too far. "I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it," Biden said.

    But at the same time, Biden knows that punishing Russian actions can increase tensions. A cyberwar would work against the administration’s goal of improving relations with Russia, say some experts.

    Jonathan Trimble is a retired FBI agent and cybersecurity executive. He said the U.S. must answer cyberattacks without losing control “or increase it to a conflict that goes beyond the cyberspace."

    Fighting ransomware attacks

    A National Security Council spokesperson said fighting ransomware is important but bringing such attacks to an end will not happen quickly.

    The administration already has acted against the Russians for spying. In April, the U.S. government expelled 10 Russian diplomats and placed restrictions on several people and companies. They were punished for interference in last year's presidential election and cyberattacks on federal agencies.

    The U.S. can bring legal charges against the criminals but if they do not leave Russia voluntarily, there is little chance that they will appear in American courts. Even with legal action, attacks continue to come from Russia and also China.

    In at least some cases, officials can recover the money victims paid to criminals. The Justice Department took back part of the $4.4 million paid to those responsible for the attack on Colonial Pipeline in May. That attack blocked the gasoline supply in the southeast U.S. for days.

    James Lewis is a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said the U.S. has been in a defensive position for too long. He said the government could act by limiting cyber criminals’ use of financial networks or carrying its own hacks on the hackers.

    "These are all tough choices, Lewis said. He added that the U.S. position is usually to be careful, which is why the attacks continue.

    I’m Jonathan Evans.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    cyber - combining form. related to use of a computer

    hack, hacker –n. to secretly get into a computer system to get information or cause damage; a person who hacks computers

    ransomwaren. a computer program that locks a computer until an amount of money is paid

    infrastructuren. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly

    conductv. to plan and do (something, such as an activity)

    cryptocurrency –n. a kind of money that is exchanged only through computers and that is not supported by the government of any country

    What do you think of the ransomware attacks? Does your own government have a policy on them? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.