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Cybersecurity Will Be A Key Topic Of Discussion Between Biden And Putin

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And as all of that - as that election gears up, elsewhere, President Biden is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. That happens this week on Wednesday at the end of Biden's first international trip as president. One topic sure to come up, cybersecurity especially after a number of recent cyberattacks, have wreaked havoc on company operations, including the JBS meat-packing giant and Colonial Pipeline, which transports gasoline and led to gas shortages along the East Coast. Those attacks were linked to criminals in Russia. Greg Myre covers intelligence for NPR and joins us now. Good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: The White House has made it clear over and over that President Biden is going to bring this up, but what can he realistically pressure Putin to do about this? Again, these are criminals within Russia. These were not acts of Russian operatives, as, you know, some of the election interference that we were talking about were.

MYRE: Right. That's a very important distinction, Scott, that it does seem that these attacks are linked to Russian criminal groups. But there's also a consensus that President Putin and the Russian government knows about this stuff, that hackers couldn't be carrying out major attacks on the U.S. that are causing real-world problems and that the Kremlin doesn't know about it. So it seems like something he could act on. But his position has been a real shrug of the shoulders, not our problem. He did say something interesting today - that if the U.S. would extradite the hackers to Russia, they would consider doing the same. But it seems like this is just sort of pre-summit spin rather than any sort of serious offer at this point.

DETROW: Asma Khalid and I were talking about this earlier in the show and saying that when we sit in the White House briefing room, it seems like every other question is, what are you going to do about this? Are you going to counterattack? What can the U.S. do? I mean, what is your sense of that? What can the U.S. do to try to deter these attacks going forward?

MYRE: Well, a lot of this comes down to private companies because there's not a lot the U.S. government can do to protect the private companies like Colonial Pipeline and the JBS meat company. So a lot of this is up to private companies. I mean, the U.S. does spy on Russia at the government-to-government level. So there's certainly that kind of activity that takes place. But it is going to be hard. Biden is trying to develop a greater consensus among allies that they could perhaps put some additional punishments on Russia or at least shame them. But it's really going to be hard to stop private companies from being hit.

DETROW: Lastly, Greg, can you explain the role that cryptocurrency plays in all of this?

MYRE: Right. It was very hard to get paid if you were a hacker. I mean, money sent to a bank account can be traced, but cryptocurrency allows people to receive payment and move that money around in a pretty anonymous fashion. It's hard to trace. So this has really fueled the rise of ransomware. Again, this is a hard problem to solve, but it is definitely a key part of the problem.

DETROW: Greg Myre, thank you so much.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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