US wants answers over FBI delay in helping Kaseya ransomware victims

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The US House Committee on Oversight and Reform has insisted on answers from the FBI over its three-week delay in providing decryption keys to businesses attacked by REvil ransomware.

"To understand the FBI's decision, the lawmakers are requesting a briefing from the FBI on its legal and policy rationale for withholding the ransomware key, as well as the FBI's overall strategy for addressing, investigating, preventing, and defeating ransomware attacks," the Committee said in a statement.

In a letter addressed to FBI Director Chris Wray, Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and ranking member Rep. James Comer said that the FBI withheld this tool for nearly three weeks as it worked to disrupt the attack, potentially costing the ransomware victims — including schools and hospitals — millions of dollars.

“Earlier this summer, a Florida-based software company was the victim of a ransomware attack that compromised between 800 and 1,500 businesses around the world,” the committee heads said.

"Congress must be fully informed whether the FBI's strategy and actions are adequately and appropriately addressing this damaging trend,” they said.

“Ransomware hackers have shown their willingness and ability to inflict damage on various sectors of the US economy. Congress must be fully informed whether the FBI's strategy and actions are adequately and appropriately addressing this damaging trend."

The FBI obtained the decryption keys by accessing servers of the Russian-based hackers involved in the attacks this July, according to the Washington Post. The FBI held the keys as part of an operation to disrupt the hackers and did not want to alert them of it. However, before the FBI had a chance to mount a counterattack, REvil’s platform went offline.

In his testimony in front of Congress last week, Director Wray blamed the delay on other law enforcement agencies who asked the FBI not to disseminate the keys. He added there were limits to what he could say because investigations are ongoing.

“We make the decisions as a group, not unilaterally,” he said. Wray added that there are “complex… decisions, designed to create maximum impact, and that takes time in going against adversaries where we have to marshal resources not just around the country but all over the world."

Congress demanded a response from the FBI over the allegations by October 6.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.