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Ransomware: Is the government aware?

As per a recent report by cybersecurity experts; law enforcement agencies and governments recommend the White House start operation against criminals engaging in ransomware.

Ransomware 101

  • Ransomware is a constantly developing 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. The hackers then demand ransom in exchange for the key to decrypt the files. 
  • Ransomware hackers often steal valuable or sensitive information. They then 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. Once the cybercriminals receive the payment, they will give the key to the vault – sometimes they don’t. 
  • 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, the White House is urged to act against cyber 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 – to combat criminals from extorting victims through a decentralized network. 
  • Organized by the Institute for Security and Technology (IST), the task force’s report said the cyberattacks had turned into a USD 350 million criminal industry four times greater than last year.
  • As per a report by IST, the malware “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.” 

How did cryptocurrency fit into this?

  • The report by the task force also checks at schemes; to regulate and control the essential share of the ransomware trade: cryptocurrencies. 
  • These exchanges between hackers and their victims occur in the largely unregulated realm of digital currency. From This is more challenging for authorities to trace to identify the cybercriminals. 
  • The task force is demanding for governments to request from cryptocurrency exchanges and trading desks to enforce primary requirements. This requirements include “know your customer,” anti-money laundering, and financial terrorism laws heavily governed in the European Union. 
  • Information from the cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks published the numbers for ransomware attacks; showing that the most significant ransomware claim is now around USD 30 million. 
  • To top it off, the average ransom paid in trade to unlock encrypted data increased. It rose from USD 115,123 in 2019 to USD 312,493 in 2020, which is traded mainly in crypto.

What is the government doing about this?

  • The United States Justice Department also formed a new task force; committed to rooting out and responding to the growing threat of ransomware.
  • As claimed by Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also created a unit with agents from each of the government’s cybersecurity agencies.
  • The new task force is a section of the secretary’s planned “60-day sprint” on ransomware reported during March.
  • “Beyond CISA … the entire federal government is stepping up to face this challenge,” Mayorkas stated reiterating the objectives of the joint unit. “The White House is developing a plan dedicated to tackling this problem.”

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