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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: January 21, 2021 10:22 AM
From: Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill
To: All Senate members
Subject: Safeguarding the Commonwealth from Ransomware Attacks
In the near future, I will introduce legislation to ensure Commonwealth agencies have strong capabilities in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks. These capabilities include measures to make illegal the possession, use, or transfer of ransomware, as well as prohibiting agencies from payment of ransom. Additional measures will help restore systems and captured information quickly, and provide timely public notification of such attacks.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. The software locks the user out of their files and/or device, then demands an anonymous online payment to restore access.

The number of ransomware attacks nearly doubled in the past 2 years (source: Phishme), and ransomware demands have also increased 100 percent (source: Security Magazine). Since the beginning of COVID-19, there has been a 47 percent increase in the severity of ransomware attacks. Newer strains of ransomware have been particularly malicious, with costly ransom demands and criminal actors threatening to expose an organization’s data if they do not pay the ransom demand. Half of all ransomware attacks now involve data being transferred without authorization (i.e. stolen.)

While most ransomware attacks are not reported in the news, in 2019 at least 966 U.S. government agencies, educational establishments and healthcare providers experienced ransomware attacks at a potential cost in excess of $7.5 billion. The impacted organizations included 113 state and municipal governments and agencies, 764 healthcare providers and 89 universities, colleges and school districts, with operations at up to 1,233 individual schools potentially affected.  

A small sample of the impacts from these ransomware attacks include medical records were inaccessible and, in some cases, permanently lost; surgical procedures were canceled, tests were postponed and admissions halted; schools closed; students’ grades were lost; 911 services were interrupted; police were locked out of background check systems and unable to access details about criminal histories or active warrants; surveillance systems went offline; badge scanners and building access systems ceased to work; property transactions were halted; websites went offline; online payment portals were inaccessible; email and phone systems ceased to work; driver’s licenses could not be issued or renewed; and payments to vendors were delayed. (Source:  EMSISOFT Malware Lab)

This legislation will discourage ransomware attacks by reducing financial incentives for extortion, by shortening the duration of disruption to our agencies’ services, and by expanding prohibited acts subject to criminal prosecution.

Please join me in cosponsoring this important legislation. 

Introduced as SB726