DOJ Launches Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force

In response to the growing threat from ransomware attacks, the U.S Department of Justice has launched a new Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force that will target the entire ransomware ecosystem as a whole. The aim is not only to bring the individuals conducting the attacks to justice, but also any individuals who assist attackers, including those who launder ransom payments.

The Task Force will include representatives from the DOJ criminal, national security and civil divisions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and will work closely with the Departments of Homeland Security and the Treasury. The task force will also work to improve collaboration with the private sector and international partners.

Resources will be increased to address ransomware attacks, training and intelligence gathering will be improved, and the task force will coordinate with the Department of Justice to investigate leads and connections to known cybercriminal organizations and nation state threat groups. In addition to aggressively pursuing all individuals involved in attacks, the task force will make recommendations to Congress on how best to help victims of attacks while discouraging the payment of ransoms.

The task force will help to tackle the proliferation of ransomware attacks by making them less lucrative. According to an internal DOJ Memo written by DOJ Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin, “This will include the use of all available criminal, civil, and administrative actions for enforcement, ranging from takedowns of servers used to spread ransomware to seizures of these criminal enterprises’ ill-gotten gains.”

The aim of the task force is to better protect individuals and businesses from ransomware attacks and to ensure the individuals involved are brought to justice. At present, ransomware gangs, members of which are often based overseas, know that there is little risk of being caught and attacks can be extremely profitable.

Ransomware attacks increased sharply in 2020, which was the worst ever year for ransomware attacks. According to a recent report from Chainalysis, more than $370 million in ransom payments were collected by ransomware gangs in 2020, which is an increase of 336% from the previous year. Ransoms are often paid as victims are well aware that paying the ransom, even if it is several million dollars, is a fraction of the cost of recovering from the attack without paying. The cost of attacks could easily be 10 or 20 times higher if the ransom is not paid.

In 2019, the City of Baltimore refused to pay a $75,000 ransom and the attack ended up costing the city more than $18 million. According to the GetApp 2020 Data Security Survey, 28% of businesses have suffered a ransomware attack in the past 12 months and 75% of victims paid the ransom to reduce the cost of remediation.

Ransomware attacks are costing the U.S economy billions. Cybersecurity Ventures has predicted ransomware attacks will continue to increase and are likely to occur at a rate of one every 11 seconds in 2021, with the total cost of the attacks rising to $20 billion in 2021 in the United States alone, with the global cost expected to reach $6 trillion in 2021.

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