WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is stepping up actions to combat ransomware and cybercrime through arrests and other actions, its No. 2 official told The Associated Press, as the Biden administration escalates its response to what it regards as an urgent economic and national security threat.
Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general, said that “in the days and weeks to come, you're going to see more arrests,” more seizures of ransom payments to hackers and additional law enforcement operations.
“If you come for us, we're going to come for you,” Monaco said in an interview with the AP last week. She declined to offer specifics about who in particular might face prosecution.
The actions are intended to build off steps taken in recent months, including the recent extradition to the U.S. of a suspected Russian cybercriminal and the seizure in June of $2.3 million in cryptocurrency paid to hackers.
“We have not seen a material change in the landscape. Only time will tell as to what Russia may do on this front,” Monaco said.
But she added: “We are not going to stop. We're going to continue to press forward to hold accountable those who seek to go after our industries, to hold our data hostage and threaten national security, economic security and personal security.”
Though not a new phenomenon, ransomware attacks – in which hackers lock up and encrypt data and demand often-exorbitant sums to release it to victims – have exploded in the last year with breaches affecting vital infrastructure and global corporations.
Colonial Pipeline, which supplies roughly half the fuel consumed on the East Coast, paid more than $4 million after a May attack that led it to halt operations, though the Justice Department clawed the majority of it back after identifying the virtual currency wallet of the culprits.
JBS, the world's largest meat processor, said in June that it had paid $11 million following a hack by a Russian group, which weeks later carried out a massive ransomware attack that snarled businesses around the world.
The attacks elevated ransomware as an urgent national security priority while the administration scrambled to stem the onslaught.