A global digital extortion epidemic known as ransomware is crippling local governments, hospitals, school districts, and businesses by encrypting their data files until they pay off. Law enforcement was largely powerless to stop this.

One big reason: Ransomware thugs are dominated by Russian-speaking cyber criminals who, according to security researchers, US law enforcement agencies and now the Biden administration, are shielded and sometimes deployed by Russian intelligence agencies.

When the US imposed sanctions on Russia on Thursday for malicious activities, including government hackers, the Treasury Department said Russian intelligence made ransomware attacks possible by cultivating, co-opting and providing safe haven hackers for criminal hackers. The former British cyber chief of the secret service, Marcus Willett, recently considered the scourge “strategically more damaging than state cyber espionage”.

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