Banks are stockpiling bitcoins in case they get hit with ransomware

Malwarebytes CEO Marcin KleczynskiMalwarebytesMalwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski.

A cybersecurity CEO says the problem of ransomware is now so bad that banks are buying cryptocurrency so that they’re ready to pay off criminals if their files are held to ransom.

Ransomware is a type of malware that affects a computer or network and encrypts files, meaning a user can’t access them.

The files are unlocked if the target pays a ransom to the criminals who run the scheme. That ransom is almost always paid in bitcoin, too, as it’s extremely difficult for the police to track.

Ransomware is best known for infecting individual computers, but Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, told Business Insider that he has seen a rise in businesses affected by ransomware.

“In the last six to 12 months, this has just gone so aggressively to the business environment,” Kleczynski says. “We see companies from 25 people all the way to 250,000 people getting hit with ransomware.”

An Osterman research survey sponsored by Malwarebytes shows that 54% of businesses surveyed had come under attack from ransomware in the last 12 months. The survey contacted 540 companies, and it found that the most commonly targeted types of business were in the healthcare or finance industries.

Kleczynski says that banks are starting to prepare for the threat of ransomware as the frequency of attacks increases. “I talked to a couple of banks and they say they have 50-100 bitcoin ready at all times in a wallet to deploy if a ransomware attack hits,” he said.

Having 50-100 bitcoins on hand isn’t a small sum — it’s between £22,000 and £44,000. But banks need that money ready to go if a ransomware attack holds critical files to ransom. Not paying the criminals could result in an even bigger loss.

Banks are clearly ready to pay up to get rid of ransomware, but is it a good idea? We asked Kleczynski whether businesses should pay up. “Lives should never be at stake,” he said. “But if they are, for whatever reason, I would pay the ransom. It’s just money … If you’re a student who has been working on something for four years and don’t have a backup of your PHD thesis, again, it might be appropriate to pay the ransom. But if you have just some family photos that are recoverable from the camera, I would not pay the ransom.”

The reason for the sudden rise in the number of ransomware attacks is a combination of a low cost to develop ransomware, and the possibility of a far higher payback from targets. Kleczynski says that “ransomware is very cost-effective. You pay $5 to infect let’s say potentially 1,000 people. If all 1,000 people pay you just spent $5 plus whatever it cost you to build this malware, and you’ve made tens of thousands. Trying to serve any other type of malware is a losing game.”

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