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Ransomware victims: Just pay up, grin, and bear it – says the FBI

Gee, thanks for encouraging criminals, Mr Fed

Firms that fall victim to infection from file encrypting ransomware should simply pay the ransom, Joseph Bonavolonta, an assistant special agent with the FBI, told delegates to Boston's Cyber Security Summit 2015, adding that developments such as CryptoWall are essentially unbreakable.

“To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom,” Bonavolonta said, the Security Ledger reports.

Bonavolonta comments sparked a heated debate on the topic within Spiceworks online community for IT pros forums.

Options for those unlucky enough to get their systems infected with ransomware boil down to reverting to back up systems, contacting a security expert, or paying crooks.

Of course paying crooks simply perpetuates the scam but in cases where the data can’t be recovered it may be only immediate option.

Although cryptographically well designed even CryptoLocker was defeated after a take down operation allowed security researchers to get their hands on private keys and develop a decryption tool.

Whether this breakthrough gets repeated with other ransomware strains remains unclear.

Security researcher Jada Cyrus developed a ransomware rescue kit to help victims decrypt locked files and avoid paying off crooks, as previously reported.

However, other security experts are less inclined to believe that victims can bounce back from ransomware infestations, which tend to affect smaller businesses as well as consumers.

Stu Sjouwerman, chief exec of security awareness training firm KnowBe4 and author of a ransomware rescue manual, said victims can waste a lot of time fruitlessly trying to undo the damage caused by ransomware, so Bonavolonta’s advice makes sense, at least from a strictly pragmatic perspective.

“Eastern European cyber criminals are furiously competing and innovating their ransomware code,” Sjouwerman told El Reg. “CryptoWall, the current leader in ransomware, is highly sophisticated and uses unbreakable encryption. If you have no current backups you are toast, and the FBI's comment to pay the ransom is a pragmatic business decision.” ®

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