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Costa Rica, 'under assault' is a troubling test case on ransomware attacks

Costa Rica, 'under assault' is a troubling test case on ransomware attacks

Costa Rica has been reeling from ransomware attacks disrupting daily life and raising questions about the U.S. role in protecting friendly nations, experts say.

WASHINGTON — Teachers unable to get paychecks. Tax and customs systems paralyzed. Health officials unable to access medical records or track the spread of COVID-19. A country’s president declaring war against foreign hackers saying they want to overthrow the government.

For two months now, Costa Rica has been reeling from unprecedented ransomware attacks disrupting everyday life in the Central American nation. It’s a situation raising questions about the United States’ role in protecting friendly nations from cyberattacks when Russian-based criminal gangs are targeting less developed countries in ways that could have major global repercussions.

“Today it’s Costa Rica. Tomorrow it could be the Panama Canal,” said Belisario Contreras, former manager of the cybersecurity program at the Organization of American States, referring to a major Central American shipping lane that carries a large amount of U.S. import and export traffic.

Last year, cybercriminals launched ransomware attacks in the U.S. that forced the shutdown of an oil pipeline that supplies the East Coast, halted production of the world’s largest meat-processing company and compromised a major software company that has thousands of customers around the world.

The Biden administration responded with a whole of government action that included included diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence efforts designed to put pressure on ransomware operators.

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