WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today penned a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken raising significant concerns regarding the recent wave of ransomware attacks, particularly that which exploited the Kaseya technology firm over the July 4th weekend. The Senator’s letter comes as the White House prepares to begin cybersecurity discussions with the Kremlin agreed upon at the Biden-Putin summit. 


In the interest of safeguarding American national security and global stability, the Chairman called on the Biden administration to impose definitive costs, including congressionally mandated sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), as the Kremlin continues to shelter cybercriminals.

 

Operating in many cases from Russian soil, and through infrastructure that the Russian government monitors and controls, ransomware gangs have crippled or put at risk some of our most critical infrastructure, including water utilities, meatpacking plants, and one of the nation’s largest fuel pipelines,” the Chairman wrote, adding that cybercrime costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars each year in economic losses. “The related harm to public health and safety is incalculable, and can only be expected to grow as digital technologies become more intertwined in our daily lives.”

 

While commending President Biden’s efforts to engage with Russian officials on norms and rules that govern responsible conduct in cyberspace, the Chairman pressed the Administration to remain clear-eyed about the Russia Federations’ tactics and motivations.

 

By allowing cybercriminals to operate with impunity, the Kremlin threatens international stability, undermines international institutions, and disregards international norms,” Chairman Menendez continued. “I support robust diplomatic engagement with Russia on cybersecurity and other critical national security issues – but we must see results and exact clear and enforceable costs for continued violations. In the upcoming U.S.-Russia dialogue on these issues, I expect the administration will underscore the Kremlin’s responsibility to curb the activities of cybercriminal gangs and other malign cyber actors operating from its territory, consistent with well-established international norms that Russia itself has endorsed. I also expect that you will make clear the specific and significant consequences if cyber and ransomware attacks continue, following on President Biden’s statement that the United States will take necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure.”

 

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below. 

 

Dear Secretary Blinken,


I am deeply concerned about the national security implications of the recent wave of ransomware attacks, particularly that which exploited the Kaseya technology firm over the July 4th weekend. While I commend President Biden’s statement to President Putin that Russia must take action to disrupt cybercriminals operating in Russia, and I applaud your efforts to discuss with Russian officials norms and rules that govern responsible conduct in cyberspace, the United States must remain clear-eyed about the Russian Federation’s tactics and motivations in cyberspace. The administration has many authorities with which to act, including congressionally mandated sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions law (P.L. 115-44). I urge you to fully implement these sanctions authorities and mandates in response to these attacks as they happen, because without significant pressure from the United States and its allies, the Kremlin is unlikely to curb the cybercriminals it currently shelters.


From hospitals in California to schools and police departments in New Jersey, American businesses, infrastructure operators, and government agencies face significant digital risk and pressure. Operating in many cases from Russian soil, and through infrastructure that the Russian government monitors and controls, ransomware gangs have crippled or put at risk some of our most critical infrastructure, including water utilities, meatpacking plants, and one of the nation’s largest fuel pipelines. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cybercrime costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars each year in economic losses. The related harm to public health and safety is incalculable, and can only be expected to grow as digital technologies become more intertwined in our daily lives. U.S. allies and partners are also suffering: just over a week ago, the Kaseya ransomware attack forced hundreds of Swedish supermarkets to close.


Russia is a hotbed for this dangerous activity. Ransomware gangs, such as DarkSide and REvil, operate freely in Russia. While I am not currently aware of evidence linking these groups directly to activities of or from the Russian state, experts believe that Russian cybercriminals act with the Kremlin’s tacit approval and program their malware to avoid attacking computers in Russia and other nearby countries, knowing that the Russian authorities will tolerate them as long as they cause their damage elsewhere. As a matter of U.S. national security, this is unacceptable.

By allowing cybercriminals to operate with impunity, the Kremlin threatens international stability, undermines international institutions, and disregards international norms. As President Biden stated last month in Geneva, “responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory.” The United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Advancing Responsible State Behavior in Cyberspace, which counts Russia among its contributors, emphasized in this year’s report that countries should “take all appropriate and reasonably available and feasible steps to detect, investigate and address” known cybercriminal activity emanating from their borders. But in practice, the Kremlin ignores this basic principle, and America and its allies pay the price.


I support robust diplomatic engagement with Russia on cybersecurity and other critical national security issues – but we must see results and exact clear and enforceable costs for continued violations. In the upcoming U.S.-Russia dialogue on these issues, I expect the administration will underscore the Kremlin’s responsibility to curb the activities of cybercriminal gangs and other malign cyber actors operating from its territory, consistent with well-established international norms that Russia itself has endorsed. I also expect that you will make clear the specific and significant consequences if cyber and ransomware attacks continue, following on President Biden’s statement that the United States will take necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure.


I look forward to receiving a briefing from you following the upcoming U.S.-Russia dialogue so that we can consult on appropriate next steps and to working with you and the Department on this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

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