Gov. Brown Signs Legislation Punishing Ransomware
SB 1137 clarifies that introducing ransomware into any computer, system or network is punishable as extortion
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown today signed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to help protect computer users by clarifying that infecting computers with ransomware is a form of extortion and punishable as such.
Ransomware 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 imprisoned up to four years.
“This legislation provides prosecutors the clarity they need to charge and convict perpetrators of ransomware,” Hertzberg said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the use of ransomware. This bill treats this crime, which is essentially an electronic stickup, with the seriousness it deserves.”
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 were paid in the United States in the first three months of 2016, according to the FBI, compared to $25 million 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 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 often don’t unlock the victim’s computer. For those who don’t fall prey to the scam but instead try to regain control of their computer, it can require the costly assistance of a professional computer technician.
SB 1137 is co-sponsored by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and TechNet, a bipartisan trade organization that advocates on issues affecting technology companies.
“Extortion by ransomware is immensely costly and terrifying to victims whose data is held hostage,” Lacey said. “And when criminal hackers target hospitals, fire and rescue it threatens the public's safety. SB 1137 has clarified California law to make sure that a criminal who infects computers or networks with ransomware can be prosecuted for extortion.”
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."
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
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814