HARTFORD, CT — Noting that computer extortion has been increasing at a rapid rate in both the public and private sector, the House of Representatives Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would increase criminal penalties for the crime.
“Ransomware,” as it has been commonly named, it used by criminals to encrypt a computer user’s important files or documents, making them unreadable or to halt an entire computer system.
The criminals then require a ransom be paid to get their documents back or to return their system to working order.
“This is one business — computer extortion — that we don’t want in the state of Connecticut,” Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said.
The bill originally came out of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, told his fellow House members that Connecticut has been spared, so far, but that there have been “major ransomware attacks” in other parts of the world, including in the last few days.
A ransomware attack that began in Europe on Friday is lingering, according to an NPR report, and hitting new targets in Japan and China. NPR said the WannaCry software has locked thousands of computers in more than 150 countries.
Users in those countries, NPR reports, have been confronted with a screen demanding a $300 payment to restore their computer files.
The cyberattacks have hit more than 300,000 computers across the globe, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said at a briefing on Monday.
NPR reports that because of its success, the software — also known as WannaCrypt, Wana Decryptor or Cry — has spawned imitators.
The legislation will now go to the Senate. It mandates that if someone is guilty of computer extortion by ransomware that the crime be classified as a felony.
The bill’s language was amended, after public hearing testimony from cable and communication companies, to refine the definition of ransomware to not include the authentication required to upgrade or access purchased content or the blocking of access to subscription content in the case of nonpayment for such access.
“We share the objective of preventing cyber criminals, hackers, and other online malefactors from preying upon consumers in this state,” Timothy Wilkerson, vice president and policy counsel for New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, said.
The Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association submitted testimony against the bill, stating: “While this of course is not conduct that should be lawful, such conduct would already constitute a crime under the existing statutes.”