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Ransomware gangs have evolved from an online hacking group to “modern-day pirates” of the digital sea.

Ransomware attacks are now being used to specifically target and stifle governmental sectors and businesses in western nations. Australia’s shadow assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security, Tim Watts, has noted how ransomware attacks now tread on the line of policy rather than a technological solution. Moreover, these ransomware groups have escalated to a point of global extortion and created an ‘underworld service-for-hire’ where parties can collaboratively damage businesses.

Due to ransomware targets and the changing nature of online security, Cisco Talos Intelligence Group has classified these groups as “privateers”. This term was developed due to the displaced nature of ransomware operations. Emsisoft reported that several of these groups operate out of Eastern Europe with protection from countries such as Russia. With the government turning a blind eye, these groups are allowed to run rampant as long as their actions are not contradictory to those of the governments they exist in. Effectively, these are “pirates with papers”, operating under government supervision without official sanction.

By categorising these ransomware gangs as privateers, it will allow domestic governments to enforce policy protections and information sharing to directly work with law enforcement. Coordination between the Australia Federal Police’s Cybercrime Operations, Australian Cyber Security Centre, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission have begun but many critics and experts are calling for greater international collaboration as federal action cannot alone protect the cyberspace. Some have even gone so far as to say that companies targeted by ransomware attacks should be given immunity to lawsuits for data loss.

As technology evolves, so do bad actors. With close to $3.4 billion lost last year globally from ransomware attacks, it is clear that governments and businesses will be required to take proactive action or risk further demise. It is imperative that protocols and policies are considered now before it becomes too late.

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