World leaders call for enhanced cooperation to fight escalating wave of ransomware attacks

World leaders call for enhanced cooperation to fight escalating wave of ransomware attacks
© Getty Images

A coalition of leaders from around 30 nations kicked off a White House-led summit on countering ransomware attacks Wednesday by calling for increased international cooperation to fight these incidents. 

The summit comes as several nations have been left reeling after cyberattacks. 

“We know very well, all of us who have gathered here today, that we cannot do this alone, no one country, no one group can solve this problem,” Jake SullivanJake SullivanSaudi prince's 'net zero by 2060' goal comes with intriguing contradictions Sullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns MORE, national security adviser to President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege The No Surprises Act:  a bill long overdue MORE, said during a plenary session to kick off the two-day U.S.-led ransomware summit. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“We view international engagement as foundational to our collective ability to deal with the ransomware ecosystem, to hold criminals and the states that harbor them accountable, and to reduce the threat to our citizens in each of our partner countries,” Sullivan said. 

Top cybersecurity officials from countries around the world participated in the opening plenary session, which preceded two days of closed-panel discussions around ransomware focused on resilience, disruption, virtual currency and diplomacy.

Notably, officials from Russia were were not invited to participate despite many high-profile ransomware attacks linked to cybercriminals likely based in Russia. 

Several of the nations participating detailed recent disruptive ransomware attacks, including an ongoing attack in Israel against one of the nation’s largest hospitals, in emphasizing the urgent need for enhanced collaboration to face down ransomware threats. 

“One of the things that unfortunately unites us is the same problem, the ransomware pandemic we all suffer from, and I can disclose now that Israel is experiencing as we speak a major ransomware attack against one of its big hospitals. Now, in the middle of trying to solve it, it doesn’t look pretty good right now,” Yigal Unna, the director general of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, said in his opening remarks. 

The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center had been targeted by the attack, which had forced the cancellation of elective operations and required all patient information to be written by hand. 

“Israel is fully ready to participate, to be a significant partner, in this great initiative that is so important, as we now feel in our hospitals and other places,” Unna stressed.

Israel is the latest nation to see its hospital systems hit by ransomware attacks.

Ireland’s national health care organization was targeted in May, forcing the shutdown of all IT systems and leading to canceled or delayed pediatric, cancer and other appointments for weeks. Dermot Woods, the director of Ireland’s National Security Analysis Centre, said Wednesday that Irish officials had worked with international partners in investigating the attack. 

“We firmly believe it’s never been more important that we work together, both across governments and the private sector to promote a global, open, and secure cyberspace, where respect for fundamental rights, freedoms and democratic norms applies,” Woods said in his opening remarks. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In early March 2020, as the COVID-19-causing virus spread around the world, the second-largest hospital in the Czech Republic was targeted by a ransomware attack, disrupting operations. 

According to Karel Rehka, director of the Czech Republic’s National Cyber and Information Security Agency, his nation had continued to see a “significant rise” in the number of cyberattacks against critical groups. 

“We believe ransomware has reached a threshold where it can no longer be regarded as a criminal activity only, and it poses a significant threat to our nation’s security,” Rehka said. “No one can deal with this alone, not an organization of the nation, and we see this initiative and mutual cooperation as a key.”

Several leaders detailed steps being taken to bolster cybersecurity in their nations, including in Japan, which next year plans to establish a state cyber bureau to better lead cybersecurity investigations, and Australia, which rolled out new plans Wednesday to further crack down on cyber criminals. 

But while nations can take actions on their own to counter ransomware attacks, such as in the U.S. where multiple agencies have made confronting these attacks a priority under the Biden administration, several participants stressed that more could be done together. 

“With your food basket and my food basket, together the people will thrive,” Paul Ash, New Zealand’s cyber coordinator, said Wednesday.

He noted that the traditional proverb “speaks to the idea that while working in isolation might enable each of us to survive, working together can take us beyond survival to prosperity, and so it must be to counter the growing threat of ransomware.”