- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A top FBI official said Tuesday that the bureau has not seen a decrease in cyberattacks coming from Russia, contradicting what President Biden‘s national cyber director recently told Congress.

Bryan Vorndran, assistant director in FBI‘s cyber division, told lawmakers that the bureau has not witnessed a slowdown in ransomware attacks from Russia.

“From an FBI perspective, we have not seen a decrease in ransomware attacks in the past couple of months originating from Russia,” he said at a House Oversight Committee hearing. “Please understand we do have incomplete data. In a best-case scenario, we only see about 20% of the intrusions in the country, no different than our partners at [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency].”

The testimony provided a stark contrast from National Cyber Director John C. Inglis who told lawmakers earlier this month that he had spotted a “discernible decrease” in such Russian cyberattacks.

Mr. Inglis made an opposite claim before the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month when asked by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Michigan Democrat, about the level of attacks from Russian-based groups after Mr. Biden‘s summit in June with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think that answering the question head-on, we have seen a discernible decrease,” said Mr. Inglis at the hearing earlier this month. “It’s too soon to tell whether that is because of the material efforts undertaken by the Russians or the Russian leadership. It may well be that the transgressors in this space have simply [laid] low understanding that this is, for the moment, a very hot time for them.”

Mr. Inglis, who testified alongside Mr. Vorndran at the hearing, did not directly address the discrepancy given the opportunity by Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat. He said Russia plays an important role in stopping ransomware threats and America is not powerless without their help.

“It is far more effective to stop these threats at their source. And a permissive environment, if harbored, if given safe haven by the Russians would encourage more entry into the space. That being said we’re not powerless,” said Mr. Inglis.

The discrepancy may result from the two officials having access to different information or different analysis of the data available to them. Mr. Inglis noted in written remarks to the Oversight Committee that the White House and the Kremlin Experts Group are pressing Russia to act against criminal ransomware activities.

A White House official told reporters in October that Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin created the experts group and it was sharing information on ransomware attacks with Russia. The White House is leading the experts group, according to the official.

The FBI also has access to information about the ransomware attackers’ identity that it does not wish to make public. Asked at Tuesday’s hearing about foreign intelligence services posing as criminals to conduct ransomware attacks, Mr. Vorndran said a full answer would need to be given in a classified setting.

“There are some intelligence gaps about whether intel service individuals are moonlighting as criminals or state actors are hiring criminals to conduct certain activities,” said Mr. Vorndran.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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