November 17, 2021 | Policy Brief

Washington and Jerusalem Enhance Cooperation to Counter Ransomware

November 17, 2021 | Policy Brief

Washington and Jerusalem Enhance Cooperation to Counter Ransomware

The United States and Israel are forming a new cyber partnership to combat ransomware threats, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo announced on Sunday during a trip to the Jewish state. The initiative comes on the heels of America’s counter-ransomware virtual summit last month — attended by more than 30 countries, including Israel — and turns principled pledges into concrete action.

Flanked by Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Director General of the National Cyber Directorate Yigal Unna, Adeyemo affirmed the importance of “international cooperation to address the abuse of virtual currency and disrupt the ransomware business model,” according to a Treasury press release.

The counter-ransomware effort, the press release continues, is part of a larger initiative, the U.S.-Israel Task Force on FinTech Innovation and Cybersecurity, which will encourage “cross-border cybersecurity exercises” focused on global “financial and investment flows.” The task force will also conduct expert technical exchanges aim at promoting innovation in financial services technologies to enhance both cybersecurity and compliance with anti-money laundering standards.

After the virtual summit, the participants pledged to share “lessons learned and best practices for development of policies to address ransom payments,” according to a joint statement issued by the parties. The new U.S.-Israel task force will operationalize this goal by developing a bilateral memorandum of understanding to share financial sector-related information, including information on cybersecurity incidents and threat intelligence. A common understanding of the threat is the first step in developing joint actions that can thwart the operations of criminal and state-backed malicious cyber actors.

A longstanding ally of the United States, Israel is a logical partner for U.S. efforts to enhance international cyber cooperation. Despite its small size, Israel is a recognized leader in technology and cybersecurity. For example, in the first half of 2021, Israeli companies commanded 41 percent of the total funds raised by cybersecurity firms worldwide.

The success of Israeli cyber companies stems in part from a 2010 Israeli government task force that devised a five-year plan to make Israel a global cyber power. The strategy involved a private-public partnership leveraging Israeli academic, military, private-sector, and government resources.

Israel can provide a useful case study as the Biden administration, Congress, and the U.S. private sector seek to address cyber workforce shortages. Jerusalem’s experience fending off attacks by Iranian hackers against the Israeli water sector can also help inform Washington’s critical-infrastructure defense initiatives.

Prevailing against malicious actors in cyberspace requires robust cooperation with countries such as Israel that share America’s commitment to the rule of law, financial transparency, and an open, free, and secure internet. Washington should look to replicate successes from this new initiative with long-term allies such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan. The United States should also pursue collaboration with Estonia, Taiwan, and other countries that, like Israel, are highly digitized democracies with a record of strong partnership with the United States.

American cyber collaboration with allies should be broad but also deep, and thus Washington should seek to expand U.S.-Israel cooperation in cyber. Congress is currently considering the U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Act, which would authorize $30 million over five years to fund cybersecurity research and development. The Israeli government would match the contributions through government funding and private-sector investment.

The legislation aims to create a new arena of cooperation and innovation. It would provide an opportunity for Washington and Jerusalem to work with private-sector companies, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to confront cybersecurity challenges. Even while the United States and its allies and partners must remain focused on ransomware attacks, Washington must also look ahead and work with its international partners to adapt to meet future cybersecurity challenges.

Annie Fixler is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and deputy director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation (CCTI). Enia Krivine is senior director of FDD’s Israel Program and National Security Network. For more analysis from the authors, CCTI, and the Israel Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Annie on Twitter @afixler. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CCTI. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Cyber Israel