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Ransomware negotiator shares thoughts on the extortion payment debate with El Reg – Source: go.theregister.com

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In a recent interview, Drew Schmitt, a professional ransomware negotiator and practice lead for the GuidePoint Research and Intelligence Team (GRIT), shed light on the alarming rise of ransomware attacks in the past year. According to data compiled by the GRIT team, more than 60 criminal gangs targeted at least 4,500 victims with ransomware infections, and these numbers continue to escalate without any signs of slowing down.

Schmitt, who has extensive experience interacting with various ransomware crews, discussed the evolving tactics employed by these criminal groups in the realm of ransomware. He also delved into his crucial role in assisting companies with incident response when they fall victim to ransomware attacks or intrusions, emphasizing the broader question of whether ransom payments should be outlawed altogether.

Amidst the ongoing debate regarding a potential ban on ransom payments, there is also a growing controversy surrounding the role of negotiators like Schmitt and whether they should be subjected to regulation. Despite official recommendations from law enforcement agencies advising victims against making ransom payments or engaging in negotiations with cybercriminals, Schmitt emphasized that his team focuses on threat actor communications aimed at advising on risk and facilitating recovery rather than solely orchestrating payments.

As ransomware gangs adopt more coercive tactics to compel victims into paying, such as threatening to disclose sensitive data and reaching out to companies’ clients and business associates, law enforcement agencies have intensified their efforts through coordinated takedowns of ransomware operations. While these enforcement actions have yielded varying degrees of success, Schmitt noted that they have managed to demonstrate that even the most prominent ransomware groups are not immune to legal repercussions.

Although the impact of these takedown efforts remains uncertain in the long run, with the possibility of gangs rebranding or members joining other criminal enterprises, Schmitt highlighted the need for a multifaceted approach to combat the ransomware epidemic. While some advocate for a complete prohibition on ransom payments, Schmitt emphasized that solving the complex issue of ransomware requires more than a single solution, such as a ban.

One key aspect that Schmitt emphasized is the importance of incentivizing organizations to enhance their cybersecurity measures, whether through cyber insurance policies or government-provided tools to bolster the security posture of small and medium-sized businesses. Encouraging proactive cybersecurity measures, according to Schmitt, is essential in deterring ransomware attacks and mitigating the impact of future threats.

In conclusion, while the ransomware landscape continues to evolve and pose significant challenges to cybersecurity professionals and law enforcement agencies, the efforts to combat these threats must involve a comprehensive and collaborative approach that addresses the root causes of ransomware attacks. As the battle against ransomware rages on, it is clear that a united front is crucial in safeguarding businesses and individuals from the devastating effects of these malicious cyber operations.

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