White House Kicks Off Second International Counter Ransomware Initiative Summit

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The gathering, featuring a total of 36 countries, will focus on preventing large scale cyber attacks and money laundering via digital currencies.

Combating illicit financial and digital asset transactions will dominate discussion at the International Counter Ransomware Initiative Summit, where 36 countries will strategize how to better combat growing cyber threats. 

A senior administration official told reporters on Sunday evening that the U.S. will join countries including Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, France, Germany, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and more in talks on how to prevent devastating ransomware attacks from disrupting nations’ critical infrastructure. 

This comes as many of these countries––including the U.S.––have witnessed an uptick in hacks on the digital networks of important institutions, such as hospitals, schools, and utility companies.

“Ransomware is an issue that knows no borders,” the senior administration official said. 

The summit initiative was launched last year as part of President Joe Biden’s plans to safeguard digital networks across the globe. Several ally nations have specialized in monitoring and preventing ransomware threats, with administration officials highlighting specialized work done across the globe, namely Lithuania and India’s digital infrastructure resilience, Australia’s cyber disruption research, Singapore and the U.K.’s virtual currency initiatives, and Spain’s leadership in fostering public-private sector partnerships. 

“Our hope is that CRI partners take advantage of this opportunity to come together and stretch our work to counter ransomware beyond just the participating countries, integrating the insights from the summit into our diplomatic approach so that together we can institute a set of cyber norms, and rules of the road that are recognized across the globe to counter criminal ransomware threats and hold malicious actors accountable,” the administration official said. 

Private sector companies will also participate in the summit, fulfilling a key measure the Biden administration worked to implement into many of its technology policies. Companies in attendance are leaders in cybersecurity software technology like Crowdstrike, Cyber Threat Alliance, Microsoft, Cybersecurity Coalition, Palo Alto Networks, SAP, and Siemens, among others. 

These companies were selected as a strong representative pool to encompass a diverse set of regional and focus areas impacted by ransomware threats. During the summit, company experts and leadership will be asked how governments can best collaborate with private sector entities, and how public sector organizations can best prevent cyber attacks. 

“We've invited the private sector to join us for a discussion because as we know, they have visibility on the threats on the actors, the networks that are used, and on the best ways to mitigate these threats,” the administration official confirmed. 

Inextricably linked to fraudulent or illegal financial transactions and ransomware payments is the use of cryptocurrencies. The U.S. and its allies intend to explore the best measures to prevent money laundering with cryptocurrencies and its supporting software, blockchain. 

Compounding the usage of digital assets in illegal transactions are ongoing geopolitical tensions between Russia and the U.S. and its allies. Agencies such as the Treasury Department and Justice Department have recently imposed sanctions and penalties on cryptocurrency platforms, specifically currency mixers such as Tornado Cash, that work to obfuscate international digital transactions. 

Members joining the summit are set to discuss how to effectively pursue crypto-based money laundering across technologies like blockchain and digital crypto wallets. 

“What we've seen in the crypto realm is that many international countries…lack capacity in determining blockchain analysis. How do you actually pursue laundering funds across the blockchain, across the use of cryptocurrency, and hosted wallets, et cetera,” the administration official said. “We're going to be continuing, frankly, building capacity teaching that to less capable countries.”