Biden urges Putin to ‘take action’ against ransomware hackers

US president Joe Biden has called on Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin to “take action” against the hackers behind a spate of global ransomware hacks, in the first phone conversation between the two world leaders since their first meeting in Geneva last month.

A White House statement on Friday said Biden and Putin had spoken by phone “about the ongoing ransomware attacks by criminals based in Russia that have impacted the United States and other countries around the world”.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said the phone call had lasted “about an hour”.

“President Biden underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and emphasised that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware,” the White House statement said.

The White House said 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 statement follows audacious and disruptive attacks this year, including against the US’s Colonial Pipeline, which was forced to close temporarily, and against JBS, the world’s largest meat processor.

Over the weekend, a hacking cartel went on a global ransomware spree targeting an IT supply chain, hitting about 1,500 businesses and forcing Sweden’s Coop to shut 800 of its grocery stores after cash registers stopped working.

All three are believed to have been carried out by Russian-speaking ransomware gangs, operating out of Russia. Some US cyber security experts accuse Moscow of harbouring ransomware criminals, avoiding prosecuting them on the understanding that they do not hit Russian companies, and hand over stolen data or a cut of profits if called upon to do so.

Biden and Putin met face-to-face in Geneva last month for the first time since Biden became president. Those three-and-a-half hour talks were described as “open” and “frank”, as Biden warned his Russian counterpart there would be “devastating” consequences for the Kremlin if opposition activist Alexei Navalny were to die in prison.

Biden told reporters after the June meeting that he had given Putin a list of “certain critical infrastructure [that] should be off limits” from cyber attacks, detailing 16 entities.

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