US Holds Global Conference to Counter Ransomware Attacks

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The White House began Wednesday, October 13, holding a two-day international conference to combat ransomware computer attacks on business operations around the world that cost companies, schools and healthcare an estimated $74 billion last year.

US officials met via Zoom with their counterparts from at least 30 countries to discuss how to combat this covert attack. Russia, the origin of many of the attacks, was not on the invite list while Washington and Moscow officials were in direct contact with the attacks coming from Russia.

This year there has been an epidemic of ransomware attacks in which hackers from far away lock down victim computers remotely and demand large ransom payments to allow normal operations to continue.

The US says global ransomware payments hit $400 million in 2020 and $81 million more in the first quarter of 2021.

Two US businesses, Colonial Pipeline Company which delivers fuel to much of the eastern US and global beef producer JBS, were targeted by a major ransomware attack in May.

Colonial paid $ 4.4 million in ransom, though U.S. government officials secretly later recovered $ 2.3 million from the payment. JBS says it has paid a ransom of $ 11 million.

Other US companies were also attacked, including CNA Financial, one of the largest insurance carriers in the US; Applus Technologies, which provides testing equipment to state vehicle inspection stations; ExaGrid, a backup storage vendor that helps businesses recover after ransomware attacks; and the school system in the city of Buffalo, New York.

The attackers also targeted victims in other countries, including Irish healthcare systems, Taiwan-based computer manufacturer Acer and the Asian division of French cyber insurance company AXA. [my/jm]

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