WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a call Friday that the United States "will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure," as cyberattacks against American companies originating in Russia have continued.
Speaking to reporters after the call, Biden said that he felt “optimistic” after talking with Putin and that the two nations have increased communications to address attacks like these.
During the call, the White House said, Biden "underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and emphasized that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware."
"President Biden reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge," the White House added in a statement.
The call came just weeks after the two leaders met in person for the first time since Biden took office. During their meeting, Biden warned Putin to curb the cyberattacks and gave him a list of 16 items he considered to be critical infrastructure that is off-limits. Biden said he warned Putin that the United States would respond if the cyberattacks continued.
But it is unclear what response the Biden administration is considering. In a call with reporters, a senior administration official said that "we're not going to telegraph what those actions will be precisely" but that they would take place in the weeks ahead.
When asked by a reporter if it made sense to attack the actual servers that were used to carry out ransomware attacks, Biden responded "yes." He also said that he thought Putin would ultimately cooperate.
Pressure for Biden to respond more aggressively to Putin ramped up this week after a ransomware attack by the Russian-language group REvil, which is believed to operate inside that country, hacked Kaseya, an international company that remotely controls programs for companies, affecting at least 200 U.S. companies over the Fourth of July weekend. The REvil hack is being called the largest ransomware attack in history.
Russian groups have also been linked to earlier cyberattacks targeting U.S. government agencies, a major meat producer and the largest fuel pipeline on the East Coast.
During their in-person meeting, Putin denied Russia's role in recent cyberattacks against U.S. institutions.
At the time of the meeting, Biden said that the success of their talks would be determined in the next few months based on whether Putin's confrontational posture toward the United States improved.
The administration official said Friday that Biden "really meant what he said" and that the administration continued to believe it would take about six months to evaluate Russia's actions following the sit-down meeting.
"This is more than just a conversation that is taking place between the two leaders," the official said.