Press Release

Legislation Outlawing Ransomware Clears Assembly Public Safety Committee

SB 1137 makes intentionally introducing ransomware into any computer, system or network a crime equivalent to extortion

June 21, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to help protect computer users by outlawing the practice of infecting computers with ransomware and making it the criminal equivalent of extortion today passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

SB 1137 was approved on a bipartisan 7-0 vote. Ransomware is software that allows a computer hacker to access your computer, hold it hostage and demand payment in exchange for relinquishing the attack. Under the bill, a person engaged in the activity could be convicted of a felony and be given a sentence of up to four years in jail.

“Ransomware attacks have become a major threat to all internet users,” Hertzberg said. “This is essentially an electronic stickup, and we need to treat it with the same seriousness and severity we would treat any stickup.”

This year, ransomware attacks have skyrocketed and become increasingly sophisticated, hitting  hospitals, health care organizations and other major institutions. More than $209 million in ransomware payments have been paid in the United States in the first three months of 2016, according to the FBI, compared to $25 million made in all of last year.  

In February, a ransomware attack on the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center prompted the hospital to pay a $17,000 ransom in bitcoin to restore access to its computer system.

The full extent of the ransomware attacks, though, is difficult to assess because victims are sometimes reluctant to come forward and businesses, which have a financial incentive to protect their credibility and reputation, don’t want the public to know if their cybersecurity has been breached.   

Ransomware can often go beyond the simple extortion of money. It can allow hackers to steal passwords and gain access to bank accounts or other private or sensitive information that can be used for identity theft.

Even if ransom is paid, attackers rarely unlock the victim’s computer. For those who don’t fall for the scam but instead try to regain control of their computer, it can require the costly assistance of a professional computer technician.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and TechNet, a bipartisan trade organization that advocates for technology companies.

“SB 1137 provides a clear code section to prosecute this specific type of computer crime,” according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “SB 1137 also provides prosecutors a much needed tool to prosecute attackers who use ransomware because California’s existing extortion statute may not properly cover the type of harm caused by ransomware.”

Ransomware is just one type of electronic criminal activity that has risen along with widespread use of computers, cell phones and the internet. According to a recent report, 43 percent of companies in 2014 experienced some sort of data breach, including highly visible and damaging attacks that hit Sony, Home Depot, Target and JP Morgan Chase.

"Ransomware does not just impact home computers – far from it. Hospitals, data centers, retailers, financial institutions and many others are becoming growing targets for the perpetrators," said Andrea Deveau, Executive Director at TechNet. "SB 1137 provides a clear signal to these criminals that ransomware is a criminal act and will be prosecuted as such, and we thank Senator Hertzberg for his leadership on this issue."

SB 1137 goes next to the Assembly Privacy & Consumer Protection Committee for consideration.

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Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.

MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Communications Director
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-401

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