A recent report by cybersecurity experts, law enforcement agencies and governments urges the White House to take action against criminals engaging in ransomware.
What is ransomware?
- Ransomware is a continuously growing form of malware – software that accesses a computer or device without permission – designed to encrypt files on a device.
- The files are unusable when encrypted and the hackers then demand ransom in exchange for the key to decrypt the files.
- Ransomware hackers often steal valuable or sensitive information they threaten to leak/release unless the owners of the information agree to pay the hackers.
- Think of it like kidnapping a company’s top-secret information and locking it behind an unbreakable vault. The kidnappers will only give the key to the unbreakable vault if they are given money.
- In recent years, ransomware incidents have occurred far more frequently to government entities, financial institutions and large corporations.
What are experts saying?
- In a recent report by cybersecurity experts, law enforcement agencies and governments, the White House is being urged to take action against criminals engaging in ransomware.
- The task force also encouraged the Biden administration to crack down on cryptocurrency exchanges – a marketplace to buy and sell crypto – in order to combat criminals from extorting victims through a decentralized network.
- These are just two of 48 recommendations made by the task force in last week’s report to the Biden administration to counteract the growing ransomware attacks.
- Organized by the Institute for Security and Technology (IST), the task force’s report said the cyberattacks have become a US$350 million criminal industry, which is four times higher than last year.
- Ransomware “has disproportionately impacted the health care industry during the COVID pandemic, and has shut down schools, hospitals, police stations, city governments, and U.S. military facilities,” according to the report by IST.
How does cryptocurrency play into this?
- The report by the task force also looks at methods to regulate and control the most important part of the ransomware business: cryptocurrencies.
- These payments between hackers and their victims occur in the largely unregulated realm of digital currency, which is harder for experts to track in hopes of identifying the criminals.
- The task force calls for governments to require cryptocurrency exchanges and trading desks to enforce basic “know your customer,” anti-money laundering and financial terrorism laws which have been heavily regulated in the European Union.
- Recent reports from the cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks published the numbers for ransomware attacks showing that the largest ransomware demand now stands at US$30 million.
- On top of that, the typical ransom paid in exchange to unlock encrypted networks rose from US$115,123 in 2019 to US$312,493 in 2020, which is largely traded in cryptocurrency.
What actions are being taken by the government?
- Last week, the United States Justice Department also created a new task force dedicated to rooting out and responding to the growing threat of ransomware.
- According to Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the US Department of Homeland Security has also assembled a task force with representatives from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations unit.
- The new task force is part of the secretary’s planned “60-day sprint" on ransomware that was announced in March.
- “Beyond CISA … the entire federal government is stepping up to face this challenge," Mayorkas said while highlighting the goals of the joint task force. “The White House is developing a plan dedicated to tackling this problem.”
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