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US lawmakers introducing cyber legislation following string of attacks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) speaks with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich) (AP file photo)

US lawmakers are preparing to introduce legislation to address a spike in ransomware and other cyberattacks on key American organizations such as Colonial Pipeline and JBS USA, which Washington has blamed on hackers in Russia. 

The lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic Parties are planning to confront what they call cyber threats emanating from both foreign nations and cybercriminal groups making millions from holding companies for ransom, The Hill reported on Friday.

“We think it’s essential for us to get our hands around this issue of ransomware, Colonial Pipeline is the biggest example, and then JBS, the meatpacking company, but it happens every day, and it happens to smaller companies too and individuals,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told The Hill.

“We need a better federal defense and offense on it, and we need to be sure it’s a partnership with the private sector,” he added.

US Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is also working with Portman on legislation to deal with the increase in ransomware and other devastating cyberattacks on American organizations.

Peters said that the legislation would be “comprehensive” and was necessary.

“I think every member on this committee agrees that this committee will focus our collective attention and resources on dealing with this problem,” Peters testified at committee hearing last week.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, following several cyberattacks. Washington claims Russian hackers are behind the crippling cyberattacks.

Recently, a ransomware attack on JBS USA, the largest supplier of beef in the nation, forced all its American facilities to shut down for a day.

Last month, Colonial Pipeline, which supplies around 45 percent of the East Coast's fuel supply, shut down its operations after a ransomware attack which Washington claimed was carried out by a Russian-based group. The company chose to pay the hackers the equivalent of $4.4 million in Bitcoin to receive keys to decrypt their systems.

And, the recent hack of information technology company SolarWinds allegedly gave access to thousands of companies and government offices that used its products.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Peters and other Senate committee leaders to conduct a “government-wide review” of the incidents.

“We in Congress have a responsibility to conduct oversight and determine whether our government needs an additional authority and resource to take the fight to cyber criminals and foreign intelligence services,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

In his interview last week, Putin rejected US allegations that his government was behind a string of recent cyberattacks in the United States, calling the claims “farcical.”

"We have been accused of all kinds of things," Putin said.

"Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations,” he added.

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