VIDEO: Ransomware Tops Company Cyberthreats, Steptoe Lawyers Say

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By Jimmy H. Koo

Ransomware and state-sponsored cyberattacks are the most significant cybersecurity threats for U.S. companies, Steptoe & Johnson LLP attorneys told Bloomberg BNA in a video interview.

The U.S. government is “doing a lot but can do more” to communicate and cooperate with companies and international entities to address those threats, Brian Egan, national security partner at Steptoe in Washington, said.

Before joining the international law firm, Egan served in the White House, the State and Treasury departments, and on the National Security Council.

Alexis Early

In a typical ransomware attack, a hacker deploys malicious software on a computer that locks up data on the victim’s network. After the malware makes the data inaccessible, the hacker offers to sell an electronic key to unlock the data. That offer is typically accompanied by a threat to permanently erase the data or release the information publicly if the ransom demand isn’t met.

Ransomware and other cyberattacks are extremely difficult to attribute to a specific cybercriminal, Egan said.

One of the ways the U.S. government seeks to minimize national security-related cybersecurity concerns for U.S. companies is through a Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) review. CFIUS is a multi-agency government committee, chartered by statute, to conduct national security reviews of foreign investment in the U.S.

According to Alexis Early, a Washington-based associate at Steptoe with a focus on national security reviews of foreign investments, CFIUS recently has been taking a close look at Chinese and Russian investments to vet whether they’re “trusted investors.” Specifically, the semiconductor industry is being closely scrutinized to protect networks and storage systems containing the personal information of U.S. citizens, she said.

Russia Sanctions, Global Cooperation

President Donald Trump signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The law codified existing cybersecurity-related executive orders, and also imposed sanctions against any actors allegedly acting with Russia on cyberactivities, Egan said.

Under the sanctions regime, U.S. companies exporting certain technology to Russia will need to obtain government permission to continue to do so, Early said.

In order to improve global cybersecurity, there must be more private-sector initiatives to share cybersecurity-related data and best practices, and governments need to work together to establish “rules of the road,” Egan said.

According to Early, cybersecurity can be seen as an international trade-related issue. The Trump administration announced in May its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and cybersecurity will definitely be an issue for companies during that process, Early said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at

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