Pay Up or Give Up: How to Deal with Ransomware


Boston, MA – At this year’s Boston Cyber Security Summit, one FBI agent announced some surprising advice when dealing with ransomware. “To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom”, said Joseph Bonavolonta, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cyber and Counterintelligence Program in the Boston office. “The ransomware is that good”, he said. Ransomware is used by malicious attackers by encrypting a computer’s files and then holds the key needed to unlock them for a specified value typically ranging from $200 to $10000. Ransomware attacks often use strains like CryptoLocker and CryptoWall which are so difficult to crack that it is cheaper to pay the ransom them to hire a professional to come and fix the computer.

The FBI has stated by regularly backing up your system, these sort of criminal threats would be ineffective. Between April 2014 and June 2015, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported it received almost 1000 CryptoWall complaints and that the victims together lost more than $18 million. Also, according to the Cyber Threat Alliance, the criminals behind CryptoWall have earned about $325 million.

In order for businesses to deal with the mass increase of ransomware, the FBI gives the option of revert to back-up systems, contact a security professional, or pay. Many of the businesses have been going to the FBI for advice and assistance on defeating the malware and getting their data back, but even the FBI admits that ransomware is “pretty good”, meaning they can’t always help due to the strength of the malware. “Law enforcement traditionally has struggled to chase down cybercriminals who use ransomware”, says Marco Balduzzi who researches the dark Web. He mentions that the attackers are often paid in bitcoin which is difficult to trace. Then they convert the bitcoin to other virtual currencies which make it nearly impossible to track back to the criminal.

The FBI saying the best way to deal with ransomware is simply to pay off the ransom is a surprise that leads to the fact that hackers have established a new and complex method of gaining the money they want while the general public’s awareness of these attacks have decreased, perhaps during a time where people should be most aware of cyber threats.

Andrew McKenzie