The United States will launch a series of actions to strengthen the country’s cyber security, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced.

Measures include employing the Secret Service’s cyber fraud task forces to respond to ransomware incidents and arrest the criminals behind them.

“Ransomware is a cyber pandemic that paralyses cities, companies and hospitals across the country,” the DHS said. “Previous incidents illustrate the risk ransomware poses to Covid-19 vaccine deployment efforts.

“Tackling ransomware will require partnering with private organisations, state, local, tribal and territorial entities.”

The department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is running a ‘Reduce the Risk of Ransomware’ campaign and Mayorkas wants public and private organisations to mitigate the risk of falling victim to ransomware attacks.

He is increasing spending on cyber security through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants. CISA will evaluate and implement additional capabilities, including potential new grant programmes, to enable critical security investments.

Mayorkas will also work with foreign counterparts to strengthen international collaboration. “Cyber security is more important than ever, and we will build on the department’s excellent work as we transform our whole-of-government approach to tackle the challenge we face as a nation,” said Mayorkas.

“This week is just the beginning of a series of actions DHS will pursue nationally and internationally to improve cyber security at all levels.”

Recent measures include Congress empowering CISA to hunt for cyber threats in government networks and identify vulnerable technologies used by critical infrastructure sectors.

In the past few months, CISA plus government and private sector partners have disrupted and helped protect against malicious activity perpetrated by North Korean actors against financial institutions, and issued a directive to national government agencies requiring implementation of vulnerability disclosure programmes to allow security researchers to identify weaknesses in national government websites and applications.

The DHS also said the Secret Service last year responded to 539 network intrusions, arrested more than 1,000 people for cyber-financial crimes and seized over $140m (€116m) in assets.

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