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US invites friends to multilateral cybersecurity meetings – Russia and China strangely absent

Perps not welcome at anti-ransomware gabfest that Biden admin would rather portray as bold infosec alliance

The United States has kicked off meetings attended by representatives of nations that all hope to address the scourge of ransomware – without Russia or China in the room.

An expression of the US National Security Council’s Counter-Ransomware Initiative, the two-day meetings will occupy Wednesday and Thursday.

"The initiative builds on President Biden's leadership to rally allies and partners to counter the shared threat of ransomware," said a senior administration official about the two-day virtual meeting of ministers and senior officials from over 30 countries and the EU.

China and Russia aren't at the event. Both were name-checked in a pre-event press call as a source of recent cybermalice and, as such, not welcome during talks about a solution.

Eager to address the elephant in the room – or rather the bears not allowed in the room – media on the pre-event call repeatedly pressed the un-named Biden rep regarding the absence of China and Russia. It was made clear that the US engages separately and directly with Russia on the issue of ransomware, and Russia's future attendance in such engagements was not ruled out.

"The headline, folks, should really be around US government leading and bringing countries together to fight ransomware effectively," said the official, who later conceded that Russia was not invited, rather than simply unavailable to attend the party.

"Russia plays a role because of a number of criminal actors who are, you know, operating from Russia. And that is the reason that President Biden established with his counterpart – with President Putin – a dedicated channel for us to have very focused and candid discussions. And that's why I noted to you that we've had several and they continue," spake the senior administration official.

The meeting's agenda includes efforts to improve national resilience, addressing the misuse of virtual currency to launder ransom payments, efforts to disrupt and prosecute ransomware criminals, and diplomacy as a tool to counter ransomware. Only the first of six sessions were open to the press — the rest are closed in order to encourage "frank, open dialogue". Just not too open.

While the US is facilitating the meeting, the efforts are collaborative among nations, as India will lead and organize talks on resilience, Australia on disruption, UK on virtual currency and Germany on diplomacy.

"We know very well – all of us who have gathered here today – that we cannot do this alone," said national security advisor Jake Sullivan during opening remarks on Zoom. He described cybersecurity as an urgent threat prioritized by the US, whose agencies are "pursuing an integrated effort to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem". ®

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