U.S. officials on Sunday ratcheted up pressure on companies and foreign adversaries to fight cybercriminals, 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, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in an interview on Sunday, when asked if military action was being considered.
Raimondo did not detail what those options could look like, but said the topic will be on the agenda when the president meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month. The rising threat of cyberattacks 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," Raimondo said.
Last weekend, the world's largest meatpacker was targeted by cybercriminals and in May, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States was attacked, stoking fears over supply disruptions of food and fuel.
U.S. 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 recent high-profile attacks have prompted Biden to put the issue of Russia harbouring hackers on the agenda for his meeting with 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 the computer servers used to carry out such hacks, some cyber experts say.
U.S. officials are asking private companies to be more vigilant and transparent about attacks. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday said the May attack on Colonial Pipeline, which created temporary gasoline shortages, showed the national implications of a hack on a private company.
"Part of our vulnerability on cybersecurity is you're only as strong as your weakest link," he said in an interview with CBS.
Companies need to alert the federal government when they are targeted, Granholm said, and stop paying attackers. "You shouldn't be paying ransomware attacks, because it only encourages the bad guys," she said.
While she opposes ransomware payments, she said she is uncertain whether Biden or Congress is prepared to outlaw them.
Companies should be required to report ransomware attacks, Democratic Senator Mark Warner from Virginia said on Sunday, though he stopped short of saying he supported making such payments illegal.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington. Writing by Chris Prentice. Editing by Alistair Bell)