The Biden-Harris Administration is taking steps this week to gin up international support to fight ransomware as the White House National Security Council (NSC) hosts a two-day virtual assembly with 30 foreign partners to discuss joint efforts to counter the attacks.

Ransomware incidents have been on the rise in recent months, disrupting critical services and impacting businesses, schools, government offices, hospitals, and emergency services. The global economic losses from ransomware are significant. In 2020, ransomware payments reached over $400 million globally, and in the first quarter of 2021, payments topped $81 million, illustrating the financially lucrative nature of the attacks.

According to the White House, international partnerships are key in the global fight because transnational criminal organizations are often the perpetrators of ransomware crimes, and leverage global infrastructure and money laundering networks to carry out the exploits.

“[We are] working closely with international partners to address the shared threat of ransomware and galvanize global political will to counter ransomware activities,” the White House said in a statement explaining the aims of the meetings.

During the meetings, NSC will facilitate conversations on accelerating cooperation on improving network resilience, addressing the financial systems that make ransomware profitable, disrupting the ransomware ecosystem via law enforcement collaboration, and leveraging the tools of diplomacy to address safe harbors and improve partner capacity.

“While the United States is facilitating this meeting, we don’t view this solely as a U.S. initiative. Indeed, we’re leading internationally — bringing other countries together,” a senior administration official said prior to the kickoff of the meetings.

“Many governments have been indispensable in organizing the meeting, and four countries in particular have volunteered to lead and organize specific thematic discussions: India for resilience, Australia for disruption, the UK for virtual currency, and Germany for diplomacy,” the official said. “In addition, I want to note that we see this meeting as the first of many conversations among the international partners participating this week and beyond.”

The administration already has taken a number of actions on its own to combat ransomware. For example, the Department of Justice established a task force to enhance law enforcement and prosecutorial collaboration in responding to and tackling ransomware attacks. And President Biden also launched an Industrial Control System Cybersecurity Initiative to boost collaborative effort between the Federal government and the critical infrastructure community.

The White House’s International efforts against cyberattacks to date have included work with G7 nations to protect critical infrastructure, endorsement of a new NATO Alliance cyber defense policy, and face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin to warn of consequences against critical infrastructure attacks.

“This meeting is a great first step, but there has to be teeth to it. It’s like having 30 cooks in the kitchen,” commented Mark Sincevich, Federal Director at Illumio.“While it’s important for those involved to be on the same page, the United States cannot afford to wait for the rest of the world to agree on consequences for cyberattacks like ransomware. Federal leaders must continue to prioritize Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA), focusing on securing high-value assets first for the most immediate security impact. This will thwart attackers and prevent them from reaching their intended targets. Then, governments must instate high (monetary) penalties to those attackers.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.