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FBI Told Congress That Ransomware Payments Shouldn't be Prohibited

 

After meeting with the business sector and cybersecurity experts, the Biden administration backed away from the concept of barring ransomware payments, according to a top cybersecurity official on Wednesday. At an Aspen Security Forum event, Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and new technology, said, "Initially, I thought that was a good approach. We know that ransom payments are at the heart of this ecosystem.”

A top FBI official told US lawmakers in July that making ransom payments to cybercriminals illegal is not the best way to combat the danger of ransomware. According to Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, banning ransom payments could unwittingly open the door to more extortion by ransomware gangs. 

"If we ban ransom payments now, you're putting US companies in a position to face yet another extortion, which is being blackmailed for paying the ransom and not sharing that with authorities," Vorndran said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ransomware. 

The debate over whether or not ransomware payments should be illegal exemplifies the larger issue that policymakers have in trying to combat a crime that takes advantage of a victim's financial incentives. According to cybersecurity experts, paying in the hopes of rapidly fixing an issue is often more appealing than refusing to negotiate, having to recover data from backups, and risking the publishing of sensitive information online. 

“We heard loud and clear from many that the state of resilience is inadequate, and as such, if we banned ransom payments we would essentially drive even more of that activity underground and lose insight into it that will enable us to disrupt it,” Anne said. 

Work to gain transparency into cryptocurrency networks, which have become a popular method of payment for cybercriminals, is one of the disruptive attempts. The National Security Council, according to Neuberger, is working with other members of an interagency task force to review regulations and safeguards that would allow for improved payment monitoring. 

“Our driving goal is rapid tracing and really the strengthening of domestic and international virtual currency regulatory environments to enable that,” she said. “One big part of it is also building in those types of protections in the design of new virtual currencies and addressing that in a way that we can both have the innovation, and not have a broad illicit use that’s driving criminal activity.”

Maryland Officials Found 508,000 “Potentially Fraudulent” Unemployment Claims

 

Over the last six weeks, more than half a million "potentially fraudulent" jobless claims have been made in Maryland, according to state labour officials. Officials say about 508,000 unemployment claims have been flagged as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan joins a group of 25 other GOP governors who have decided to discontinue federal unemployment payments. According to The Washington Post, approximately 1.3 million bogus claims have been made in Maryland since the beginning of the pandemic.

“As the economy recovers and states across the country continue to opt out of the federal benefits program, bad actors are becoming more brazen and aggressive in their attempts to exploit unemployment insurance programs than ever before,” Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told the Post in a statement. 

Fallon Pearre, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department, declined to say how many of the "potentially fraudulent" claims have been proven to be false or whether any will result in legal action, but she did tell the Washington Post that the claims had been submitted to federal law enforcement. 

Marylanders will lose an additional $300 per week in benefits under Hogan's decision, which comes two months ahead of the Biden administration's original deadline, and gig workers will be without benefits entirely, according to the Post. 

According to the Washington Post, Robinson recently stated that the Labor Department had hired LexisNexis Risk Solutions to assist in the identification of possibly false claims. Over 64% of the nearly 200,000 transactions were detected as fraudulent, according to the business. 

According to the Washington Post, Robinson told the Maryland state House Economic Matters Committee, "Fraud is rampant, so we have to remain on top of it." When pushed by a state senator about the types of fraud that had been discovered, Robison stated that the bulk of the cases involved stolen identities. “We know there are foreign actors across the country and across the world that are using the identities that they have obtained,” she said. 

Maryland officials identified an unemployment fraud operation last year that resulted in $501 million in bogus claims, with over 47,000 phoney claims filed using stolen identities and information obtained from earlier data breaches.

US Cyberattack: More than 50 Companies Suffer A Massive Breach

FireEye, the cybersecurity firm responsible for finding out about the massive hacking campaign against the US government says that 50 organizations have suffered major breaches from the attack. According to BBC, "Several other organizations around the world, including in the UK, are understood to have been targeted by hackers using the same network management software." FireEye CEO, Kevin Mandia said a total of 18,000 organizations had suffered an attack, out of which 50 have suffered a major data breach. 

Among the targets include DHS(Department of Homeland Security), The US Treasury, and state and defenses.  Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, says Russia is responsible for the attack. Whereas former US President Donald Trump suspects China behind the cyberattacks. Trump took to Twitter last Saturday and said that he believes China is responsible for the attack against the US. According to FireEye, the hacking breach is very serious and consistent. The US officials believe that the attack is the work of SVR, a Russian foreign intelligence agency. 

According to Mr. Mandia, these might be the same hackers that the US encountered in the 90s and the early 2000s. It all started when the hackers breached SolarWinds Orion, a Texas-based firm. In the SolarWinds supply chain hack, a "big" telecommunications company, various government organizations, and a fortune 500 company have been the targets of the breaches. The news comes a day after Microsoft agreed that it had informed its 40 customers of a breach in its Defender antivirus software. Mr. Pompeo has a firm belief that Russia is engaged with this activity. He alleges Russia for undermining the US government and says Russian President Putin is the real risk. 

"Hackers managed to gain access to major organizations by compromising network management software developed by the Texas-based IT company SolarWinds," reports BBC news. The access could have allowed the hackers to take a high degree of control over the networks of organizations using that software, but appears to have been used to steal data rather than for any disruptive or destructive impact, it further says.

Massive Cyberattack On US Government Exposes Shortcomings, Russia Named Top Suspect

Not long ago, US agencies had confirmed a massive data breach that compromised their networks. The problem persists, and US federals are still grappling to comprehend the extent of the breach. The data breach is linked to a large-scale hacking campaign that the experts have associated with Russia's operations. "The broad Russian espionage attack on the US government and private companies, underway since spring and detected only a few weeks ago, is among the most significant intelligence failures of modern times," reports The New York Times

As of now, various firms are investigating the issue, and a cybersecurity agency Fireye on Wednesday revealed that the malware has a "killswitch" that allows the software to shutdown. However, even if the malware is deactivated, the infected systems can remain susceptible to hackers' attacks. Besides this, currently, US federal agencies are under a lot of pressure to take strict action against Russia. In reality, the officials are still trying to address the exploited vulnerabilities and officially find the threat actor. 

The attack has exposed the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of the US cyber defenses. The news appears at a delicate time when the Biden administration has just taken over the office. President Joe Biden's administration is currently meeting with various agencies to look for options for dealing with this alarming threat. The Biden staff came to know about the massive intrusion on Monday, says DHS and Infrastructure Security Agency. US cybersecurity experts and officials say that the incident should be a warning to both the US government and private sector organizations because foreign actors will keep charging more damage in the future. 

"House and Senate Intelligence Committee aides received a phone briefing on the hack from administration officials on Wednesday, but the full extent of the breach remains unclear, according to sources familiar with the briefing. The Biden transition team was also briefed on the attack this week, an official from the Department of Homeland Security's cyber arm told CNN. The official declined to provide additional details about what was discussed," reports CNN.