Political hand-wringing in Washington over Russia’s hacking of government agencies and obstructions in U.S. politics has generally dominated a worsening digital scourge with a far broader wallop. Devastating and dispiriting extortionary ransomware attacks by cybercriminal mafias that mostly work in foreign safe havens out of the reach of Western law enforcement.
Stricken in the United States alone last year were more than 100 federal, state, and municipal agencies, upwards of 500 health care centers, 1,680 educational institutions, and untold thousands of businesses, according to the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. Dollar losses are in the tens of billions. Exact numbers are tricky. Numerous victims disregard reporting, fearing the reputational scourge.
The U.S. government presently considers ransomware a national security risk. The Department of Justice has just made a task force to handle it.
Ransomware scrambles a victim organization’s data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for how to arrange ransom payments and, once paid, provide software decryption keys.
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