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US taps tech giants to help fight ransomware, cyberattacks

The Department of Homeland Security enlists Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others to help combat cyberthreats.

Privacy and security on the internet
James Martin/CNET

The US government is turning to tech giants including Amazon, Microsoft and Google to help bolster cybersecurity, after a string of high-profile attacks involving critical infrastructure. 

The initiative, called the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, was unveiled Thursday by Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security. The effort, reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, will initially focus on combating ransomware and developing a framework to deal with cyberattacks that affect providers of cloud services. It also aims to improve information sharing between the government and the private sector, with the goal of reducing the risk of attacks and ensuring a coordinated response. 

"The JCDC presents an exciting and important opportunity for this agency and our partners -- the creation of a unique planning capability to be proactive vice reactive in our collective approach to dealing with the most serious cyber threats to our nation," said Easterly. "The industry partners that have agreed to work side-by-side with CISA and our interagency teammates share the same commitment to defending our country's national critical functions from cyber intrusions, and the imagination to spark new solutions." 

The team-up follows several high-profile ransomware and cyberattack episodes in the US. So far this year, ransomware attacks have shut down a gas pipeline and a major meat producer, spurring fears of shortages and concerns that other critical infrastructure is at risk. A number of federal agencies also fell victim to the SolarWinds hack that was uncovered last year, including high-level officials at the DHS

Earlier this year, the Biden administration unveiled several efforts to shore up cybersecurity practices across federal agencies, including a $20 billion plan to secure the country's infrastructure against cyberattacks. 

Other companies participating with multiple government agencies in the JCDC include AT&T, CrowdStrike, FireEye, Lumen, Palo Alto Networks and Verizon.

"In order to bolster our nation's cyber defenses, it's essential that the public and private sectors work together to defend against evolving threats and shore up modern IT capabilities that will protect our federal, state and local governments," said Phil Venables, chief information security officer at Google Cloud, in an emailed statement. "We look forward to working with CISA under the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative and offering our security resources to build a stronger and more resilient cyber defense posture."

Amazon and Microsoft didn't respond to requests for comment.