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US to give ransomware 'terrorism' status

Department of Justice will require all ransomware cases to be centrally coordinated via Washington

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is elevating ransomware investigations to a similar status as terrorism, following critical attacks across the country, such as the Colonial Pipeline hack. 

On Thursday, internal guidance sent to US attorney's offices across the country said that ransomware investigations in the field should be centrally coordinated with a new task force in Washington, according to Reuters

All investigating officers will be expected to share both updated case details and active technical information with the officials in Washington, with further stipulations to included other investigations around cyber crime. 

"It's a specialised process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country, so you can make the connections between actors and work your way up to disrupt the whole chain," said John Carlin, the principal associate deputy attorney general at the DoJ.

The change comes amid growing concerns about the rise of ransomware cases, particularly in the US. Last month, a suspected Russian-based group hacked into the Colonial Pipeline operator and locked its system down with a demand for ransom. The incident lasted several days and led to a spike in gas prices, panic buying and localised fuel shortages. 

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"The US government is absolutely right to raise the fight against cybercriminals to the same level as its efforts against violent extremism, with attacks in recent months highlighting the devastating impact that ransomware can have," said Dr Francis Gaffney, director of threat intelligence and response at the cybersecurity firm Mimecast.

"These attacks can have massive ramifications for organisations such as downtime and loss of productivity. Our research also showed that 33% of UK businesses affected by ransomware suffered between two and three days of downtime, with business disruption (38%), impact on employee productivity (35%), and data loss (29%) the most common consequences"

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