Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on Cybersecurity
4:33 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us closer to the end of the day on a Friday. So, as noted in the invite, this is a background call on cybersecurity. I’m going to let our speaker get into more details about that.
Before I turn it over to the speaker, let me just do the ground rules really quickly.
So, this briefing is on background. It is attributable to a “senior administration official.” And it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.
Just for your awareness but not for reporting, the speaker on this call is [senior administration official].
You know, we’re running a little bit behind time today, so we’re only going to have time for a couple of questions. But if you don’t get your question in, you know how to reach me, and I’m happy to get back to you as soon as I can.
So, with that, I’ll turn it over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. And good afternoon, everyone. Like [moderator] said, thank you for joining us late on a Friday afternoon.
So, we welcome, of course, that the Kremlin is taking law enforcement steps to address ransomware emanating from its borders.
The President believes in diplomacy. President Biden and President Putin set up a White House-Kremlin Experts Group on ransomware last June. As we’ve said and the Russians have acknowledged, we’ve been sharing information with the Russians through this channel, including information related to attacks on American critical infrastructure.
We understand that one of the individuals who was arrested today was responsible for the attack
against Colonial Pipeline last spring.
We’re committed to seeing those conducting ransomware attacks against Americans brought to justice, including those that conducted these attacks on JBS, Colonial Pipeline, and Kaseya.
I also want to be very clear: In our mind, this is not related to what’s happening with Russia and Ukraine. I don’t speak for the Kremlin’s motives, but we’re pleased with these initial actions.
We’ve also been very clear: If Russia further invades Ukraine, we will impose severe costs on Russia in coordination with our allies and partners.
As the President has said, cyber criminals are resilient and we will continue to take action to disrupt and deter them while engaging in diplomacy, as we have with Russia, allies, and partners around the world.
So, with that, over to you. Looking forward to your questions.
Q Thank you so much. Thanks for doing it. I want to ask you about Russia and Ukraine. And I had a little difficulty hearing, but I think you said that if they did anything regarding Ukraine, there would be costs.
Do you have any attribution? I know the Ukrainians have suggested that today’s hacking was related to Russian intelligence services. Has this moved beyond what the Pentagon said earlier and what the White House said earlier about attributions about today or any other hacking of Ukraine in recent days from Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, Andrea. Can you hear me now? I’m sorry. I have a bad cold, so I know I’m a little hard to hear.
Q Oh, I’m so sorry. Feel better.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Okay, good. But I’m glad you can hear me. Okay.
So, we don’t have an attribution at this time. We are in touch with Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and recovers from the incident. While we continue to assess the impact to Ukrainians, it seems limited so far, with multiple websites coming back online.
But I want to note, we are — you know, we and our allies and partners are concerned about this cyberattack, and the President has been briefed. But that is the status at this time.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this on a Friday evening. I was curious to know — you said you welcome reports that the Kremlin is taking action. Obviously, there’s been a suggestion that this operation was done at the direct behest of the White House. Could you talk a little bit about whether that’s, in fact, true — whether this is something that was done specifically at your urging, with information that the White House had indeed provided? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Eric. So, as you know, President Biden and President Putin set up the White House-Kremlin Experts Group on ransomware last June, and we have been meeting within that channel and discussing the need for Russia to take action against ransomware criminals operating from within their borders. We’ve also shared information regarding individuals operating from within Russia who have conducted disruptive attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure.
And as I noted, we understand that one of the individuals who was arrested today was indeed the individual responsible for the attack against Colonial Pipeline last spring.
So, this has — we do attribute today’s announcement to the — to, really, the President’s commitment to diplomacy and the channel that he established and the work that has been underway in sharing information and in discussing the need for Russia to take action.
That being said, each country pursues its law enforcement operations under, certainly, its own legal system. And Russia’s announcement today was clearly something that will be — you know, that was — pursued its own law enforcement steps.
These are our first — these are very important steps, as they represent the Kremlin taking action against criminals operating from within its borders. And they represent what we’re looking for with regard to continued activities like these in the future.
Q Hi. Thanks for doing the call. Do you expect anything to happen to these individuals who have been apprehended? As you know, there’s no extradition treaty, and Russia has a history of not really prosecuting these types of people. So, what happens now? What does the White House hope to happen now, in terms of actually making sure that these people won’t return to ransomware?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our expectation is that Russia announce arrests and that Russia would be pursuing legal action within its own system against these criminals for the crimes that they have created — that they have done. So, that is our expectation.
And it is indeed, to your point, our expectation that they’re brought to justice and, as such, not only for their past crimes, but preventing future ones as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Again, thanks, everyone, for joining. I know this was a really short call. If we didn’t get to your question, please feel free to email or call me, and I’ll make sure that we get back to you. And then, have a great weekend. Thanks for your time. Bye.
4:41 P.M. EST