Security & Fraud

Why The FBI Thinks Ransomware Is A Growing Threat

An increasing number of Americans are finding themselves hit by so-called ransomware — malicious software that holds a user’s computer hostage unless the perpetuator is paid off, generally in bitcoin.

This announcement comes care of the FBI, which had the further good news to share that the problem is likely going to get worse before it gets better.

Chris Stangl, a section chief at the FBI’s Cyber Division, called ransomware “a prevalent, increasing threat” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

According to forthcoming data from the FBI, 2015 saw 2,453 reported ransomware incidents. All in, victims paid out about $24.1 million total. That is an apparent pickup from 2014, though the comparisons are imperfect because 2014 saw a change to the current data collection method. The FBI noted that, during the last nine months of 2014, there were 1,838 reported incidents for losses of $23.8 million.

Ransomware, Stangl says ,“is growing … The only reason why these campaigns are successful is because people pay.”

The FBI is also still apparently working on its official ransomware messaging after an official in the Boston office shared at a conference last year that he often advises victims to pay the ransom, which Stangl notes is not normal policy.

“The FBI has a long tradition of ‘we simply don’t pay ransoms.’’’

“The FBI can’t tell somebody not to pay the ransom. That is a business decision to make, period … If the business needs to operate, they need to do something.’’

The FBI is currently working to take down the most dedicated ransomers — a challenge given that most of them are foreign nationals based in Eastern Europe.

“Where we can, we want to identify infrastructure and take that down,’’ Stangl said.

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