FBI urges ransomware victims to step forward

FBI discourages users from paying ransom, but wants to hear from your whether or not you did

The FBI has issued a plea for those who have been hit by ransomware to report this to federal law enforcement so that the country can get a better sense of just how bad this problem really is.

Ransomware refers to malware that encrypts files on computers or locks users out of their computers, and requests ransom be paid to set files free or allow users to regain access. Such malware, often going by spooky names like Cryptolocker or TeslaCrypt, can be activated by clicking on a web link or even visiting a compromised website, or opening an file in email. One nasty variant even takes your money and still deletes your files.

While security vendors have pumped out scary numbers about ransomware infections, with some variants supposedly compromising as many as 100,000 computers a day, the FBI says that it has had a hard time gauging the scope of the issue. It suspects many victims -- both individuals and businesses -- don't report incidents for any number of reasons, including that they don't know where to turn and fear loss of privacy.

The FBI warning follows a recent forum convened by the Federal Trade Commission during which FTC Chair Edith Ramirez said "The spate of ransomware incidents are escalating at an alarming rate," and cited an estimate from the Department of Justice that ransomware incidents have increased 300% in the past year. Also, new Department of Human Services HIPAA guidance for healthcare companies has been issued this year regarding ransomware.

MORE: The history of ransomware

The FBI does not encourage people paying ransom, but encourages victims to reach out to their local FBI office and/or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center regardless of whether they did pay. The bureau is seeking the following details, as applicable, in reports:

      1. Date of Infection
      2. Ransomware Variant (identified on the ransom page or by the encrypted file extension)
      3. Victim Company Information (industry type, business size, etc.)
      4. How the Infection Occurred (link in e-mail, browsing the Internet, etc.)
      5. Requested Ransom Amount
      6. Actor’s Bitcoin Wallet Address (may be listed on the ransom page)
      7. Ransom Amount Paid (if any)
      8. Overall Losses Associated with a Ransomware Infection (including the ransom amount)
      9. Victim Impact Statement

As for defending against attacks, the FBI recommends regular data backups on systems not directly connected to your computers, keeping up with software patches, using anti-malware tools, and other standard best practices.

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