The recent onslaught of ransomware attacks in the United States feels new, says Patrick Howell O’Neill at MIT Technology Review, but “hackers holding services hostage and demanding payments has been a huge business for years.”
“The ransomware boom,” O’Neill says, “started at the tail end of the Obama White House, which approached it as part of its overall cybercrime response.” These efforts were deprioritized during the Trump administration, however, and the global ransomware crisis grew to incredible proportions, he says.
The growth stems from several factors, says O’Neill, including inaction on the part of authorities, new, more sophisticated tactics on the part of attackers, and the fact that hackers work from countries where they can avoid prosecution. “They operate massive criminal empires and remain effectively immune to all attempts to rein them in.”
A compounding factor, he points out, is “the unavoidable fact that weak cybersecurity combined with ubiquitous connectivity equals increasingly vulnerable targets. Everything in America—from our factories to our hospitals—is connected to the internet, but a lot of it is not adequately secured.”
The Biden administration is now making an unprecedented attempt to tackle the problem, O’Neill says, through a recent cybersecurity executive order, for example, but “a global partnership between countries and companies” is required to address ransomware head on.