WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has formed a task force to curtail the proliferation of ransomware cyberattacks, in a bid to make the popular extortion schemes less lucrative by targeting the entire digital ecosystem that supports them.
In an internal memorandum issued this week, Acting Deputy Attorney General
said ransomware poses not just an economic threat to businesses but “jeopardizes the safety and health of Americans.”
By identifying ransomware as a priority, the task force will increase training and dedicate more resources to the issue, seek to improve intelligence sharing across the department, and work to identify “links between criminal actors and nation-states,” according to the memorandum.
“By any measure, 2020 was the worst year ever when it comes to ransomware and related extortion events,” Mr. Carlin, who previously ran the Justice Department’s national-security division during the Obama administration, told The Wall Street Journal. “And if we don’t break the back of this cycle, a problem that’s already bad is going to get worse.”
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Ransomware attacks, in which hackers cripple a software system until they receive a bounty, surged last year during the pandemic, along with financial demands, according to security experts and U.S. officials. The attacks have been around for decades but have flourished as society has become more dependent on technology.
Mr. Carlin said criminal hackers continue to demand ever greater sums of money from victims and reinvest those profits in cyber tools that enable more and better attacks.
The memo calls for developing a strategy that targets the entire criminal ecosystem around ransomware, including prosecutions, disruptions of ongoing attacks and curbs on services that support the…