By Leigh Hartman

Computer hackers are using ransomware to infiltrate networks and hold businesses, even critical infrastructure, hostage. In July, a single ransomware incident affected thousands of businesses in at least 17 countries, including the United States, and sought to extort tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

That’s why the White House convened representatives from 30 countries and the European Union October 13–14 for a Counter Ransomware Initiative meeting, targeting this transnational threat.

“We all know that ransomware attacks affect us all,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the group October 13. He noted ransomware has disrupted critical services and business worldwide, from banks and energy companies to schools and hospitals.

Officials, convening virtually from six continents, pledged to work together to prevent and quickly respond to incidents, disrupt and hold perpetrators accountable, and address the financial systems that make attacks profitable.

The threat of ransomware is complex and global in nature and requires a shared response,” they said in a joint statement. “We intend to cooperate with each other and with other international partners to enhance the exchange of information and provide requested assistance where able to combat ransomware activity.”

Nations work together against ransomware

International efforts to counter ransomware include:

  • Building resilience: Governments and the private sector are sharing information, training workforces and developing policies to strengthen their defenses against ransomware and make it easier to mitigate the effects of incidents when they occur.
  • Stopping abuse of virtual currencies: The U.S. Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions against a virtual currency exchange that laundered ransom payments.
  • Targeting hackers: A U.S. Department of Justice task force coordinates U.S. law enforcement efforts against ransomware and partners with other nations.
  • Prioritizing international cooperation: The U.S. government is urging nations to cooperate to disrupt ransomware networks as criminals leverage global infrastructure to spread ransomware.

Meeting participants also recommended that companies and individuals follow cybersecurity best practices. These include backing up data offline, using strong passwords and multifactor authentication, keeping software patches up to date, and opening only trusted links and documents.

The United States invited government representatives from the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom to the meeting.

“We cannot do this alone,” Sullivan said. “No one country, no one group can solve this problem.”