Really interesting conversation with someone who negotiates with ransomware gangs:
For now, it seems that paying ransomware, while obviously risky and empowering/encouraging ransomware attackers, can perhaps be comported so as not to break any laws (like anti-terrorist laws, FCPA, conspiracy and others) and even if payment is arguably unlawful, seems unlikely to be prosecuted. Thus, the decision whether to pay or ignore a ransomware demand, seems less of a legal, and more of a practical, determination almost like a cost-benefit analysis.
The arguments for rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment is the least costly option;
- Payment is in the best interest of stakeholders (e.g. a hospital patient in desperate need of an immediate operation whose records are locked up);
- Payment can avoid being fined for losing important data;
- Payment means not losing highly confidential information; and
- Payment may mean not going public with the data breach.
The arguments against rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment does not guarantee that the right encryption keys with the proper decryption algorithms will be provided;
- Payment further funds additional criminal pursuits of the attacker, enabling a cycle of ransomware crime;
- Payment can do damage to a corporate brand;
- Payment may not stop the ransomware attacker from returning;
- If victims stopped making ransomware payments, the ransomware revenue stream would stop and ransomware attackers would have to move on to perpetrating another scheme; and
- Using Bitcoin to pay a ransomware attacker can put organizations at risk. Most victims must buy Bitcoin on entirely unregulated and free-wheeling exchanges that can also be hacked, leaving buyers’ bank account information stored on these exchanges vulnerable.
When confronted with a ransomware attack, the options all seem bleak. Pay the hackers and the victim may not only prompt future attacks, but there is also no guarantee that the hackers will restore a victim’s dataset. Ignore the hackers and the victim may incur significant financial damage or even find themselves out of business. The only guarantees during a ransomware attack are the fear, uncertainty and dread inevitably experienced by the victim.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.