Ransomware is software that is surreptitiously loaded onto a victim’s computer hard drive typically through an infected email or web site. The software encrypts the files on the drive and a victim is notified that to receive an encryption key and regain access, he or she must pay a ransom.
During a nine-month period in 2014, the FBI received 1,838 complaints about ransomware, and the agency estimates victims lost more than $23.7 million, The Washington Post reported Monday. In 2015, the FBI received 2,453 complaints, and victims lost $24.1 million.
Ransomware has received a lot of attention this year after hackers successfully forced a hospital in Los Angeles, Calif., to pay $17,000 to unlock its computer files. The inability to stop the attacks is driving the rise of ransomware, and hackers are looking for new ways to exploit it. The Post’s story reveals interesting information about a few other cases, two involving municipal governments, as well as some arrests.
Employees of the city government in Plainfield, N.J., including those in the mayor’s office, discovered they were locked out of their computer files after ransomware infiltrated their network. Instead of paying the ransom demand of 650 Euros, the equivalent of $732, officials sought help from law enforcement. That might have been a mistake. According to the Post, the criminals were never heard from again and some files “may be lost forever.”
The hackers appear to be becoming more sophisticated. From the Post’s story:
“The bad guys burrow into a system often months in advance, map out the network, and then deploy the ransomware at what they believe to be the most critical assets of the organization,” said James Pastore, a former federal prosecutor in New York who worked on a ransomware case involving the Eastern European crime ring Blackshades. In that case, the FBI cooperated with authorities in 18 countries to make 90 arrests in May 2014.”
Last week, Reuters reported that some of the hackers are also suspected to be based in China.