Senators press administration for 'ransomware' info

Senators press administration for 'ransomware' info
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A bipartisan pair of senators want to know what the Obama administration is doing to combat “ransomware,” a computer virus that renders files unobtainable until a ransom is paid.

Average computer users are increasingly vulnerable to this type of attack, warned Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski rolls out rural policy plan Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time Conservative pundit says YouTube blocked interview with Rand Paul MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNearly 200 Democrats back EPA in Supreme Court emissions case Bottom line Biden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  MORE (D-Del.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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The senators on Thursday wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, pressing for more details on how the government is combating the issue.

“While much must be done to bolster the cyber defenses of our federal agencies, a far larger group, including individual consumers, faces a growing threat from a malicious computer virus known as ‘ransomware,’ ” the letter said.  

“Infected users face the difficult choice of paying the ransom or losing their files forever,” it added.

Law enforcement has been battling ransomware for years. In 2014, a coalition of U.S. agencies took down a widespread ransomware virus known as “CryptoLocker,” which the FBI estimated had infected 234,000 computers. In a matter of months, cyber criminals had extorted roughly $27 million.

But imitation ransomwares have popped up in the wake of CryptoLocker’s demise. One, known as “CryptoWall,” drove victims to pay out over $18 million between April 2014 and June 2015, according to the FBI.

Johnson and Carper are seeking more comprehensive stats on how many ransomware-related crimes the DOJ and DHS have identified since 2005. They also asked both agencies how many viruses like “CryptoLocker” are currently causing harm.

Several questions are also seeking for details on how the federal government coordinates on ransomware investigations.

“Only by staying a step ahead of the threat can we ensure the security of our citizens,” the letter said.