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Biden admin could consider military action in ransomware response

In an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the Biden administration is evaluating all of its options when it comes to ransomware attacks enabled by foreign nation-states.  

“We won’t stand for a nation supporting or turning a blind eye to a criminal enterprise,” Raimondo said.  

“We are considering all of our options,” she continued. “We are not taking anything off the table as we think about possible repercussions, consequences or retaliation.”  

When asked if some of those actions should include the military – even if these are private, non-governmental entities – Raimondo repeated, “As I said, all options are on the table.”  

She noted that the topic will be up for discussion when President Joe Biden meets with Russia President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders this week. Russian hacker group Cozy Bear, likely associated with the country’s intelligence services, targeted several federal agencies via network management software SolarWinds in late 2020, including the National Institutes of Health.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

Raimondo also reiterated the importance of businesses taking action to protect themselves against cybercrime.  

“This is the reality … and businesses should assume these attacks are here to stay, and if anything, will intensify,” she said, referencing a letter the administration sent to the corporate sector this past week.  

Although she downplayed the potential for requiring businesses to take certain protective actions (such as mandating multifactor authentication), she said that “it is clear that the private sector needs to be more vigilant … including small and medium-sized companies.”  

The Biden administration seems intent on hammering home the potential severity of cybercrime, especially ransomware.   

Senior Justice Department officials told Reuters this past week that they would be elevating ransomware investigations to a similar priority to that of terrorism.  

And FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the flood of attacks was akin to the challenge posed by the incidents on 9/11.  

“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” said Wray.  

“There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.”  

THE LARGER TREND

Raimondo’s comments came amidst a developing story of yet another cyberattack on a health system, this one on the University of Florida Health’s central servers.  

The “cybersecurity event” led to the immediate suspension of access to most central servers and a switch to paper documentation procedures. It is not yet clear whether ransomware was involved, but an investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Scripps Health is continuing to recover from an incident of its own that took its electronic health record offline for weeks.  

Scripps Health CEO and President Chris Van Gorder had been largely tight-lipped about the attack but ultimately said that it had been ransomware, as many experts had theorized.  

ON THE RECORD

“President Biden has been clear that we are going to do more,” said Raimondo in her interview on This Week. “In fact, certain components of the American Jobs Plan provide for investments to shore up the nation’s cyber infrastructure, which is just another reason why it is so important that the AJP passes.”

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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