As a presidential candidate in 2020, Joe Biden never mentioned ransomware. As president, however, he must craft a solution to a burgeoning economic and national-security threat that may now rank as dangerous as terrorism.

Ransomware attacks, perpetrated by hackers who paralyze an organization’s computer network and demand a ransom payment to unlock it, aren’t new. They date back to at least 2006 as a kind of side gig for enterprising hackers.

What is new is the corporatization of ransomware attacks and the use of cryptocurrency as an untraceable form of payment, which has led to an explosion in the number of attacks. Known attacks rose by at least 150% in 2020, while the average ransom paid soared by 171%, to $312,000. As Yahoo Finance’s Dan Howley recently reported, the worst is probably yet to come.

Ransomware emerged from the shadows with the May attack on Colonial Pipeline, which disrupted gasoline supplies on the East Coast and caused temporary price hikes. Colonial paid a $4.4 million ransom in bitcoin and got back online within a week. The DarkSide hacking group, which operated the ransomware tools — mostly likely out of Russia — said it didn’t mean to attack U.S. infrastructure, and was shutting down.

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