New DOJ task force to take on ransomware, says report

The US Department of Justice is reportedly looking to undermine ransomware extortion schemes, with a multipronged approach.

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Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
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The Department of Justice has formed a new task force aimed at tackling the growing threat of ransomware in the US, according to a Wednesday report from The Wall Street Journal. The multiagency effort involves a collaboration with private sector and international partners in a bid to undermine the ransomware distribution chain, the Journal said. 

Citing an internal memorandum issued this week, the Journal reports that Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin is looking to use a multipronged approach to undermine ransomware extortion schemes. Prosecutions are part of the plan, as is a DOJ effort to bring down the digital shops that support the attacks: the hosting services behind ransomware campaigns, and the online forums where hackers can find ransomware for sale. 

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"By any measure, 2020 was the worst year ever when it comes to ransomware and related extortion events," Carlin, who's overseeing the task force, told the Journal. "And if we don't break the back of this cycle, a problem that's already bad is going to get worse."

The DOJ's criminal, national security and civil divisions will reportedly be represented on the task force, along with the FBI and the Executive Office of US Attorneys. The Journal reports that the task force will also work toward collaboration with the Treasury and Homeland Security departments. 

Read more: Ransomware froze more cities in 2019. Next year is a toss-up