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Ransomware emerges as cyber security concern

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ATLANTA — Ransomware attacks have emerged as one of the most pressing new cyber issues that companies must face when crafting a cyber solution, according to a panel of industry sources speaking at the 30th annual Professional Liability Underwriters Society conference Thursday in Atlanta.

“If we rewind five years, to talk about cyber extortion to clients was really a dream world,” said Matt Prevost, senior vice president with Chubb Ltd. in Philadelphia. “Now it’s ultimately why some buyers are buying coverage.”

There are specific reasons for the emergence of ransomware as such a major threat, sources said.

“It’s all about the money,” said Jeremy Batterman, founding partner of Azonic Security Solutions L.L.C. in St. Charles, Illinois. “For these types of attackers, this is a way to get money from individuals or companies by holding their data hostage. It doesn’t take a lot of technical expertise to perform these types of attacks, so that makes it easy to facilitate.”

Another factor has been the rise of the digital currency bitcoin.

“Bitcoin is the perfect tool for these hackers because it has three things going for it: It’s anonymous, it’s decentralized, and it’s irreversible,” said Jeremy Kerman, an attorney with Walker Wilcox Matousek L.L.P. in Chicago. “The features of bitcoin make it the perfect tool for these ransomware attacks.

The attacks are also drawing in a much wider range of targets including smaller and medium-size companies.

“It’s indiscriminate as to whether it’s large companies or small companies,” said Dan Burke, cyber product head for Hiscox USA in San Francisco. “As more small and medium-sized companies are engaging with insurance companies to find a cyber solution, they’re recognizing ransomware can affect them just as easily as it can attack a large company. When they recognize that threat, it becomes real for them.

All of this has drawn increasing attention to the ransomware problem.

“Headline risks and news coverage has always served as sort of the proxy or barometer of these events happening and to what severity,” said Shannon Groeber, senior vice president at JLT Specialty USA, a unit of Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group P.L.C., in Philadelphia. “Now there’s a highlighted and increased interest in these ransomware attacks and certainly the impact they are having on organizations, and that’s prompting questions from our clients.”