For years we’ve been hearing about tech-savvy criminals launching ransomware attacks, taking over individual and business computer systems and then demanding a big payday to free-up those systems, but the FBI is warning New Jerseyans ransomware has now moved to a whole new level.

Jim Dennehy, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office, said ransomware expertise is now being offered as a service.

“We have criminal actors that are selling or providing specific types of tools that could be used by aspiring criminals to exploit and take advantage of these ransomware opportunities across the board,” he said.

He said over the past two years, with more people working from their home computers because of the pandemic, ransomware has become a much bigger problem than it had been.

“It’s gotten to the point where ransomware ... attacks are occurring every 40 seconds, and that’s resulted in about a billion dollars in revenue annually,” he said.

SAC Dennehy said right now “the average ransomware payment has increased about 65% just in the past year, the average these days is around a quarter of a million dollars that’s getting paid.”

Who’s doing this?

He said in the past cyber-crooks typically acted alone but now “because of the absolute demand for those types of ransomware attacks by many cyber actors, a lot of these criminals are collaborating together.”

He noted “you can talk about it as a somewhat of a cyber organized crime group if you will, they’re making a kickback on all of the software that’s being provided to the individual (for an attack)

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If you become a ransomware victim

He said if your computer system gets hacked and a ransomware demand is made “absolutely call the FBI local office and ask for the cyber squad, or the cyber investigators, and do that sooner rather than later.”

SAC Dennehy said the FBI treats ransomware like a kidnapping or abduction case.

“We’re going to come in and we’re going to probably look to help you when it comes to any conversations you have with the individual targets who are demanding this ransom.”

He stressed the FBI treats ransomware victims as just that, victims, and they won’t seize any computers or any other company assets.

Participants work at their their laptops at the annual Chaos Computer Club (CCC) computer hackers' congress,
Participants work at their their laptops at the annual Chaos Computer Club (CCC) computer hackers' congress (Photo by Patrick Lux/Getty Images)
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Businesses should work with the FBI

He said many individuals and businesses are no doubt being observed right now by criminal ransomware hackers “who are just waiting to swim around on their systems and waiting for that appropriate time, waiting for that access to very specific files in order to encrypt and then demand the ransom.”

He stressed in today’s world, people need to be ready for a ransomware incident.

“Preparing an incident response plan for an individual and a business is of utmost importance,” he said. “Engage with the FBI now so we can help you develop that plan.”

“The FBI is always willing and hopefully ready and available to come out to your company to be part of those discussions well before an attack might take place.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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