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 JohnsonEx-Wisconsin governor Scott Walker takes job as president of conservative group, won't seek office soon Democratic Senate hopes hinge on Trump tide GOP senator presses Instagram, Facebook over alleged bias in content recommendations MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Overnight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' 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.