DOJ Task Force Targeting Ransomware Ecosystem


A new task force launched by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to curtail ransomware and other cyberattacks by targeting the underlying digital ecosystem, The Wall Street Journal reported

In ransomware attacks, hackers take down a computer network and demand money to release the system. The number of attacks escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic and have surged with the increased dependency on computers. Ransomware is an economic business hazard that also “jeopardizes the safety and health of Americans,” Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin said in an internal memorandum, per WSJ. The former DOJ assistant attorney general was previously part of the department’s national security division during the Obama administration. 

Carlin said in the memo that by prioritizing ransomware attacks, the task force will upgrade training and resources as well as improve departmental intelligence sharing. It will also move to coordinate communication with the private sector, international partners and other federal agencies, including the Treasury and Homeland Security. The task force will also work to find the connections between “criminal actors and nation-states,” according to the memo.

“By any measure, 2020 was the worst year ever when it comes to ransomware and related extortion events,” Carlin told WSJ. “And if we don’t break the back of this cycle, a problem that’s already bad is going to get worse.” The memo indicated that a strategy focusing on the entire ransomware landscape — prosecutions, disruptions and forums — is necessary to help halt the advertisement and sale of cyberattack tools.

The task force, which Carlin will head up, will include the DOJ’s criminal, national security and civil divisions, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in October 2020 that ransomware attacks were on the rise and that hackers were hitting vulnerable verticals, such as small healthcare firms and municipalities. According to the FBI, ransomware attacks surged some 37 percent in 2019.

The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier this month that ransomware is on the list of high-priority cybercrimes that the agency plans to target. Mayorkas said that while ransomware isn’t new, the attacks — and the money-making ability — have evolved.