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DOJ creates ransomware task force to combat digital extortion

An internal memo from the DOJ said the task force will 'bring the full authorities and resources of the Department' in order to confront the growing threat of ransomware.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday the creation of the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, according to an internal memo provided to SearchSecurity by a DOJ spokesperson.

According to the memo, which was authored by U.S. Acting Deputy Attorney General John P. Carlin, the task force will "bring the full authorities and resources of the Department to bear to confront the many dimensions and root causes" of ransomware and digital extortion. The task force will be made up of the DOJ's Criminal, National Security and Civil Divisions; the Executive Office of United States Attorneys; and the FBI.

The memo was initially reported Wednesday morning by The Wall Street Journal.

The Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force will focus on enhancing the DOJ's ransomware-fighting capabilities through greater training and resources, increased focus on intelligence and lead sharing, leveraging said leads, and improving coordination between the DOJ's and U.S. Attorney's Offices.

Other goals include disrupting the ransomware criminal ecosystem, strengthening public-private partnerships, working in tandem with other federal departments and agencies, and furthering international collaboration.

"The task force seeks to incorporate and augment existing efforts by the department to combat cybercrime, while recognizing the unique challenges that ransomware and digital extortion pose," Carlin wrote. "The task force will bring all of the department's resources to bear to bolster our all-tools approach and work with our partners here and abroad to combat the threat of ransomware and digital extortion, and to ensure that we hold those who participate in the propagation of these crimes responsible and accountable."

The DOJ's memo announcing the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force
The first two pages of the U.S. Department of Justice's internal memo announcing the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force.

Early in the memo, Carlin wrote that 2020 was "the worst year to date for ransomware attacks," and said victim ransom demands averaged more than $100,000. Moreover, he pointed out that ransomware "and other forms of digital extortion are estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damages last year alone."

As ransomware attacks continue to increase, the U.S. government's focus has increased in kind. On March 31, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said during an RSA conference webcast that ransomware is now a national security threat.

Alexander Culafi is a writer, journalist and podcaster based in Boston.

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