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Calls for prison sentences for ransomware attacks as losses exceed $20 billion

By Shannon Williams, Fri 2 Jul 2021

New research has revealed a growing reluctance to pay ransomware demands, while calls for tougher penalties for criminals who steal company data are on the rise.

Menlo Security poll found 79% of people believe organisations that are hit by ransomware should not pay the ransom.

Although a fifth (20%) of respondents believe that they should pay the demands, respondents also think that tougher penalties should be given to criminals who steal company data and extort organisations, with more than two thirds (69%) demanding prison sentences. 

Just 7% of respondents believe that a large fine or community work would be an adequate penalty; however,16% admit that the attackers will probably never be caught.

What is clear is that ransomware is a significantly growing cost to business. Recent data from Cybersecurity Ventures shows that in 2021, global losses from ransomware attacks is expected to exceed $20 billion, and by 2031 that figure maybe as much as $265 billion. 

This follows recent high-profile attacks that led to Colonial Pipeline in the U.S.paying over $4 million in Bitcoin to cyber criminals and Travelex paying $2.3 million to regain control after hackers shut down its financial transaction networks.

Such is the severity of the situation that six out of ten respondents think that ransomware attacks should be treated the same as terrorist attacks

As the number of ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure organisations including transportation, healthcare and energy increase, responsibility for their protection should fall firmly at the feet of the government, say 55% of poll respondents. Nearly a quarter (23%) point to organisations to be more accountable, while 12% believe it rests with the cybersecurity industry as a whole.

Ransomware attacks increased by more than 130% in 2020 according to The Beazley Group. While small-to-midsize businesses were at the largest risk, ransom demands regularly hit seven or even eight figures. The highest ransom a company paid out for its clients in 2018 was over $930,000. The White House, The UK Home Office, law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts have all advised against paying ransom demands because it signals to ransomware gangs that their extortion schemes are working.

"Ransomware isn't going away any time soon and with the rise of ransomware as a service it is an increasingly easy way for cyber criminals to launch a profitable attack," says Mark Guntrip, senior director, cybersecurity strategy, Menlo Security.

"It it time for governments, organisations, and individuals to take a stand. If companies continue to pay ransom demands, then these criminal groups will continue to see the technique as an easy way to make massive monetary gains," he says.

Guntrip says in order to combat this increasingly complex cyber attack vector, a new approach is clearly needed. 

"It's time to discard the outdated approach of detect and remediate and rethink how you protect users, applications, data, and the business from these attacks from the outset," he says.

"A proactive, isolation-powered approach to eliminating malware from reaching end users in the first place is a critical component to solving the ransomware problem, minimising the impact on the business, without disrupting the way people work,"

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