Costa Rican president says country is ‘at war’ with Conti ransomware group

Ransomware – and in particular the Conti ransomware gang – has become a geopolitical force in Costa Rica. On Monday, the new Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves – who began his four-year term just ten days ago – stated that the country was “at war” with the Conti cybercriminal gangwhose ransomware attack has disabled government agencies since April.

In a strong statement to the press on May 16, President Chaves also said Conti… get help from employees in the countryand called on international allies to help.

“We are at war and this is no exaggeration,” Chaves told local media† “The war is against an international terrorist group, which apparently has agents in Costa Rica. There are very clear indications that people in the country are working with Conti.”

President Chaves’ declaration of war on Conti faces unusually bellicose rhetoric from the ransomware group, which declared his intention to “overthrow the government through a cyberattack”. In a post on the Conti website, the ransomware group urged citizens of Costa Rica to pressure their government into paying the ransom, which has doubled from an initial $10 million to $20 million.

During the period of the attack, the US government also offered a bounty of up to $10 million for information that could identify or locate the key coordinators of the Conti group’s activities, or $5 million for information leading to the arrest. from a Conti member.

The severe impact of Conti’s attack on the Costa Rican government points to the continued ability of the largest ransomware groups to operate at a scale that could threaten nation-states, leveraging funding reserves to allow them to bribe some of the most sensitive computer systems by those with access.

“We are now at the point where these ransomware groups are making billions of dollars, so their ability to access this” [networks] limited only by their own desire,” said Jon Miller, CEO and co-founder of anti-ransomware software platform Halcyon. “Month after month, more of these groups are coming online. This is a drastically growing problem.”

As the Costa Rican crisis continues, more knock-on effects are reaching the country’s citizens. Statements by Chaves put the number of government agencies reached 27, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. One effect was that the government was unable to collect taxes in the traditional way, Chaves said.

So far, the Costa Rican president has been adamant that the government will not pay anything to the ransomware gang. With neither side appearing to give way, the situation has come to a stalemate – but it will be closely watched by other governments in hopes of avoiding a similar fate.