Ransom Disclosure Act Requires Disclosure of Payments to Ransomware Gangs Within 48 Hours

A new bill has been introduced that, if passed, will require victims of ransomware attacks to disclose any payments made to the attackers to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 48 hours of the ransom being paid.

The Ransom Disclosure Act was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.) and aims to provide the DHS with the data it needs to investigate ransomware attacks and improve understanding of how cybercriminal enterprises operate, thus allowing the DHS to gain a much better picture of the ransomware threat facing the United States.

Between 2019 and 2020 ransomware attacks increased by 62% worldwide, and by 158% in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received 2,500 complaints about ransomware attacks in 2020, up 20% from the previous year and there were more than $29 million in reported losses to ransomware attacks in 2020. Not all ransomware attacks are reported. Many victims choose to quietly pay the attackers for the keys to decrypt their data and prevent the public disclosure of any data stolen in the attack.

Chainalysis believes almost $350 million in cryptocurrency was paid to ransomware gangs globally in 2020, which is a year-over-year increase of 311%. Attacks have continued to increase in 2021. According to Check Point’s mid-year security report, in the first half of 2021, there were 93% more ransomware attacks than the corresponding period last year.

As the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline demonstrated, the gangs behind these attacks pose a significant national security threat. That attack resulted in the closure of a major fuel pipeline for around a week. The attack on JPS Foods threatened food production, and the huge number of attacks on the healthcare industry has affected the ability of healthcare providers to provide care to patients. This year, CISA said ransomware attacks delay care and affect patient outcomes, and there has already been a death in the United States which is alleged to have been due to a ransomware attack.

Ransomware attacks are continuing to increase because they are profitable and give ransomware gangs and their affiliates a good return on investment. There is also little risk of being caught and brought to justice. Unfortunately, investigations of ransomware gangs can be hampered by a lack of data, hence the introduction of the Ransom Disclosure Act.

“Ransomware attacks are skyrocketing, yet we lack critical data to go after cybercriminals,” said Senator Warren. “My bill with Congresswoman Ross would set disclosure requirements when ransoms are paid and allow us to learn how much money cybercriminals are siphoning from American entities to finance criminal enterprises – and help us go after them.”

While the FBI encourages the reporting of ransomware attacks to assist with its investigations, reporting attacks is not mandatory. “Unfortunately, because victims are not required to report attacks or payments to federal authorities, we lack the critical data necessary to understand these cybercriminal enterprises and counter these intrusions,” sad Congresswoman Ross. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Warren which will implement important reporting requirements, including the amount of ransom demanded and paid, and the type of currency used. The U.S. cannot continue to fight ransomware attacks with one hand tied behind our back.”

The Ransom Disclosure Act will require:

  • Ransomware victims (except individuals) to disclose any ransom payments within 48 hours of the date of payment, including the amount, currency used, and any information that has been gathered on the entity demanding the ransom.
  • The DHS will be required to publish information disclosed during the previous year about the ransoms paid, excluding identifying information about the entities who paid.
  • The DHS will be required to set up a website for individuals to voluntarily report ransom payments.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security will be required to conduct a study on commonalities among ransomware attacks and the extent to which cryptocurrency facilitated the attacks, and make recommendations for protecting information systems and strengthening cybersecurity.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.